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12 Jun 2006 17:00
Pubs stayed open well past their regular closing times on Monday and millions of people tuned in at home on a cold winter’s night as Australia started its World Cup-induced dose of insomnia with a victory.
Nobody was complaining about the impending sleepless nights, particularly after Australia beat Japan 3-1.
Watching the Socceroos play in the World Cup for the first time in 32 years, Australian fans—some who only jumped on the bandwagon when Australia qualified by beating Uruguay last November—cheered wildly as Australia had the better early scoring chances in the Group F match, fell behind 1-0 but scored three late goals for the win.
Thousands watched on a big screen near the Opera House at Circular Quay in Sydney. In the heavily Italian suburb of Leichhardt, the Norton Street restaurant strip was closed to enable residents to watch the Socceroos and then the Italians play their later opening match against Ghana.
Among those who watched from the comfort of their homes were Prime Minister John Howard and opposition leader Kim Beazley, who said he expected a less-than-productive day by lawmakers in federal Parliament on Tuesday.
“There’s going to be bleary-eyed Australians tomorrow as they turn up to work after the long weekend and it won’t be because they hung one on,” said Beazley.
“It will be because they’ll be up watching the Socceroos.
“I expect a fairly desultory day in Parliament tomorrow as we have some of the effects of having celebrated a great Socceroos win.”
New South Wales state Premier Morris Iemma went one step further, urging employers to go easy on workers who aren’t on time on Tuesday.
“If they turn up late, give them a break,” said Iemma.
The 11pm Australian east coast (1pm GMT) kick-off on Monday was the earliest start for the Socceroos in the group stage of the tournament.
Australia’s remaining games are extremely overnight down under.
Their June 18 match against champions Brazil has a 3am start, while the June 22 match against Croatia begins at 5am in the largest cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Television ratings, despite the timing of the match, were expected to provide another bonus for the SBS network, a multicultural station that is the smallest of Australia’s free-to-air broadcasters.
SBS has carried the national team’s broadcasts for years, many of those when soccer was a poor fourth behind the other established national football codes of Australian Rules, rugby league and rugby union.
Property developer Kevin Anschau, a die-hard rugby-league fan, is among the converts.
“It’s been fantastic, a real change in the Australian attitude,” Anschau said in between sips of his beer at a hotel north of Brisbane during Monday’s match. “I think it all came about with moms pushing their kids into soccer a few years ago. The powers-that-be hiring [coach] Guus Hiddink helped, and the World Cup is icing on the cake. Along the way, it’s hard to believe the other codes being partially overtaken.”
Appliance stores reported increased sales of large-screen televisions in the weeks leading up the World Cup, and bars and pubs received permission to stay open past regular licensed hours.
Many are planning combination late drinks/breakfast specials for the 5am Croatia match so revellers will be able to fuel up on both drink and food—just in time to be ready for work.
Monday’s game was the first at the World Cup for Australia since 1974, when the Socceroos lost to hosts West Germany, East Germany and drew 0-0 with Chile in their only other trip to the tournament.
They failed to score a goal and were eliminated after the first round.—Sapa-AP
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