Number-one son was keen to attend the Brazil versus Argentina match. Being a big fan of the world game, he couldn’t resist this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch Lionel Messi waddle around a soccer pitch in a friendly.We were successful in a ballot for a table at the Jim Stynes Grill, quite a coup, given the hordes coming It was a frantic rush to the MCG for a 5:30 pm start, no mean feat on a Friday night.
From the carvery, came a brace of perfectly cooked steaks and we shared a bottle of Shiraz. We chatted amiably to our waiter, a young man from Colombia. He could barely contain his excitement at the mere presence of these two super-star teams from South America. After dinner, we took our seats, perfectly placed on a 45-degree angle behind the goals. Very civilised!
I am not sure that I have ever seen such an expensive array of world-class sportsmen plying their trade on the wide expanses of the MCG before. In their day jobs, they play for revered clubs like Man U and Man City, Barcelona, Juventus, Chelsea and Inter-Milan. Yet here they were in Melbourne. Our Melbourne.
Do they read our newspapers, we wondered out loud? What would these magnates make of the endless speculation in this town about Dusty’s contract?
What is that you say? This Dusty wants one million dollars? We are confused, is that for one week?
The game itself was a constricted battle between two well-drilled and disciplined defences. The back four for each team were so in-sync with each other that they appeared chained together, such was the cohesion in their play.
Was I actually watching a game of foosball? Was there a pole connecting the defenders together? Were they going to spin around the fulcrum at their waists over and over?
After long periods where the teams took turns probing from side to side, looking for weaknesses, trying to find a path through methodical and organised defensive lines, a visionary pass would, without warning, release a player into space. The subsequent thrilling run would bring the crowd to life!
Argentina’s De Maria broke through on several occasions throughout the evening and displayed his undoubted skills on the left side, his performance marred only by a dive worthy of the great Louganis. It was not to be the only such display for the night. Would anyone have been surprised if Lloyd Bridges made an appearance, carrying flippers and oxygen tank?
Brazil had the first real chance of the game, clearing their path to an open goal, only to hit the cross-bar with what should have been a simple shot. Soon after, the prodigiously- talented Messi suddenly exploded, creating the only goal of the half for his less-heralded compatriot Mercado. Sadly for Brazil, as they had been the better team to that point.
Argentinian fans could not contain their glee, first at the cross-bar and then at the goal, enjoying both moments with ecstatic dancing and much waving of their “La Albiceleste” scarves.
The second half began energetically. The Brazilians, stung by the affront to their national pride, worked furiously to equalise. Their best opportunity came and went, with the men in yellow ridiculously conspiring to hit both cross-bars in the same play. They beat the co-ordinated defence and the smooth-moving goal-keeper all hollow but, somehow, were denied by the inanimate objects in their path. It simply wasn’t to be their night. More dancing and waving of light blue and white scarves!
Over 95,000 fans were in attendance, testament to the enthusiasm that Melbourne people have for professional sport.
The number of people in the crowd was also roughly equal to the number of paper planes that were launched from the stands during the second half as the Argentinians exerted their control and the contest petered out. Once the many engineers present took an interest, some planes even completed their missions, landing safely on the pitch. Like hitting a cricket ball for six in reverse, really.
Nonetheless, it was a spectacle. Messi, Dybala, Coutinho, Jesus and Willian put on an outstanding display, worthy of the great MCG. Willian, in particular, showed us just how quick you need to be to play at this level.
Being at a loose end on Saturday, I fronted again for the Hawthorn-Gold Coast game. Having read that a small crowd was expected, this presented as a golden opportunity to sit on the fabled Balcony with the big boys. One of the benefits of MCC membership is being able to attend these games on the spur of the moment.
I was not disappointed by the view and the atmosphere. These are clearly the best seats in the house, especially on a sunny Saturday afternoon with the warm winter sun at our backs.
The powerful Hawthorn team of the last few seasons looks to have fallen on lean times although I don’t think this will last for very long. With the likes of Jarryd Roughead and Shaun Burgoyne to set the tone, they will soon be in amongst it again. And even if they aren’t, I’m sure their fans will console themselves with the wonderful memories of their recent Premierships. Hard to feel sorry for them.
Nonetheless, Hawthorn’s trademark clean disposal and hard running were missing, replaced by simple mistakes and uncharacteristic hesitancy. Jack Gunston’s timely return to form was a welcome distraction for their fans. Not long ago, a five goal haul from their powerful running forward would have been enough but not today.
Gary Ablett put on a master clinic. Was he trying to impress the powers-that-be at his own club or those at Geelong? Either way, it was a privilege to watch another little master run around.
The game ended controversially, triggering yet another fine for Hawthorn’s combative and bellicose coach. He is a character, that one!
Bring back the Tigers!
Joe De Petro is a Financial Planner and life-long Tiger tragic who has raised his three adult children as diehard Tiger fans. In some circles, the last of these things is considered an act of cruelty.
Argentina: G. Mercado 45'
Brazil: Paulinho 78', Rafinha 80'
Argentina: J. Maidana 32'
Official crowd: 95,569 at the MCG
HAWTHORN 2.3 4.4 7.6 12.7 (79)
GOLD COAST 3.4 6.7 11.14 13.17 (95)
Hawthorn: Gunston 5, O'Brien 2, Henderson, Mitchell, Stewart, Smith, McEvoy
Gold Coast: Lynch 2, Ablett 2, Matera 2, Wright 2, Barlow, Lemmens, Lyons, Martin, Ainsworth
Hawthorn: Mitchell, Gunston, Hartung, Smith, Burgoyne, Henderson
Gold Coast: Ablett, Lyons, Barlow, Witts, Swallow, May
Hawthorn: Gibson (adductor), Hodge (groin) replaced in the selected side by Stewart
Gold Coast: Miller (illness) replaced in the selected side by Lonergan
Umpires: Fisher, Deboy, Chamberlain, Meredith
Official crowd: 27,392 at the MCG