There's plenty of fight in this old dog – that was the message from the Socceroos in Tuesday's entertaining, yet somewhat fortunate, 1-1 draw with Japan at Suncorp Stadium.
Australia's side of veterans was written off by all and sundry pre-game, most pointing to the age column of the starting XI as the chief reason for a perceived recent decline (Carl Valeri was the youngest member at 27). As well, the goalless draw in Oman hardly helped encourage fans ahead of Tuesday's Asian Cup final re-match.
Japan's stunning recent form (3-0 and 6-0 home wins over Oman and Jordan), as well as Shinji Kagawa's high-profile transfer to Manchester United, certainly boosted their image as a side ready to tear the Socceroos apart.
However, that wasn't the case at Suncorp Stadium on Tuesday evening as an Australian side led by the ever-dangerous Tim Cahill and Alex Brosque burst out of the blocks. That pair both had good chances to put the Roos ahead in the first half, before the Samurai Blue came into their own with the gladiator-esque Keisuke Honda domineering in midfield.
Japan certainly had its moments with its neat interplay causing Australia's backline some moments of panic, however Holger Osieck's side put in a display which utilised its strengths, in physicality, but also spirit and desire. Some Japanese fans may criticise the Aussies for being overly physical, with a few sinister tackles here and there, but the reality is they'd be silly not to exploit their advantage in this department, if not for an intimidatory effect.
In the end, the Socceroos got a bit lucky by winning a very, very fortunate spotkick which Johnny of the spot Luke Wilkshire duly converted. Whatever referee Khalil Al Ghamdi saw when Atsuto Uchida tangled with Brosque, few others did. And from there, the Socceroos might have won it, with Sasa Ognenovski hitting the crossbar, while Wilkshire's late free-kick required a good save from Eiji Kawashima.
Skipper Lucas Neill said post-game if they'd won it, they would've “stolen it”. Considering Japan's quality in possession, that's fair enough, but the fact is the boys in green-and-gold got themselves in a position to steal it. Neill also used the term “Aussie spirit” and that was in full display as the determined side gave it all they had.
Tim Cahill also spoke post-game, slamming the team's recent critics and telling them to “stop bagging us”. Good on him. The media and fans are entitled to their opinion, but so is he, so good on him for standing up and saying what he thought.
Cahill's comment gave us an insight into his mentality too. He may not admit it, but I fancy he was very motivated to silence those critics. The evidence of his determined performance suggests so too.
And the whole situation gives a thought-provoking overview of the recent evolution of football, specifically the media analysis of the national team in recent times. The Socceroos' recent successes certainly have increased expectations. As a result, scrutiny has intensified too.
Australia's football media may not be anywhere near the levels of surveillance and critical examination of our UK counterparts, but we're certainly heading in that direction with the way we analyse the national team. TV pundits like Craig Foster and Mark Bosnich or print journos like Marco Monteverde have been very vocal in recent times.
Whether that level of scrutiny – usually negative criticism - is automatically regarded as a bad thing is very debatable, particularly when focused to on-field matters. I do believe football in Australia does need to pat itself on the back more often, but I'm also a firm believer that criticism often provokes accountability and asks the questions which the people in authority need to answer.
Cahill certainly made a statement on Tuesday night, along with his 'ageing' Socceroos team-mates. And long may it continue.