Socceroos enjoy perennial underdog status and plot Denmark conquest | Emma Kemp

Every Australian team in history has been underestimated, says Craig Goodwin, and that suits Graham Arnold’s squad just fine

Australia loves an underdog. Think Lionel Rose, Kieren Perkins and Samantha Stosur. Steven Bradbury in 2002. Paul Keating in 1993 (yes, politics is sport). In football, the underdog is frequently described as “spirited” or “plucky”, or some other mildly patronising term of encouragement. These are often reserved for a losing team, the “minnows” who could not defy their minnow status.

Similar lexicon surrounded the Socceroos at the start of the 2022 World Cup, before they had even played a match. This was just as much the case within Australia. According to former goalkeeping great, Mark Bosnich, they were not just underdogs but “complete underdogs”. He thus proclaimed their underdog-iness absolute.

If conceding four goals to France confirmed this, then the subsequent defeat of Tunisia shifted the Socceroos ever-so-slightly down the underdog-ometer. Nevertheless, the general sentiment remains. To beat Denmark would be, as it were, a win for the underdog, and it is so easy to get on board with that. To witness an upset on Wednesday would feel sweeter because it was unexpected, because superior opposition were taken down and the natural order disrupted.

This is, of course, only the external view, and athletes have spoken before about how the underdog mindset can be harnessed to competitive advantage. Craig Goodwin, who scored Australia’s opener against France and assisted Mitchell Duke’s goal against Tunisia, indicated the playing group thrives off it.

“Every Australian team in history has been underestimated,” Goodwin said. “That will always be the case from where we are, it’ll always be the case in the future.

“It’s something that I think helps us, and something we relish, being the underdog. I think every Australian sporting team relishes that, and we are no different. We believe in ourselves and what we’re doing, and we will fight until the very end to get the result against Denmark and try to put our names up in lights, and do the nation proud.”

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The other driving force behind the Socceroos is “Aussie DNA”, a hereditary material invented by Graham Arnold before the qualifying playoffs. The very idea is ambiguous and, in many other settings within modern Australian society, problematic. But Graham Arnold is not a social scientist, nor is he a geneticist. He is a football manager, with a mandate to impel his side to perform.

More importantly, the current iteration of this national team is comprised of players with heritages including Bosnian, Croatian, Turkish-Cypriot, South African and South Sudanese, and all have vocalised belief in Aussie DNA, which Awer Mabil has described as “a togetherness”.

“Not many believed in us but we always believed that we would be here, it was just a matter of finding whatever way,” said Mabil, one of three South Sudanese refugees in the team. “But I think us Aussies, we like the hard way. So I would say grit, that’s the DNA we have – never giving in.”

Supporting the underdog is not a concept unique to Australia. It has underpinned Hollywood film scripts for as long as the memory serves. Perhaps a key difference lies in the outcome: Australia’s support is not conditional on victory. To have tried and failed is still a triumph of sorts because the attitude was there, if not the capacity.

Similarly, if the Socceroos do not do enough against Denmark to advance to the knockout stages of this World Cup, they will still have achieved more than anticipated. If they do make it, they will not have done a Bradbury to get there. Denmark’s manager has already confirmed as much.

“Australia fight with might, driven on by fantastic team spirit,” Kasper Hjulmand said after his side’s loss to France on Saturday. “It will be a hard match. It will be a close match. We’ll do everything we can to set it up properly and to try and win.”

His opposition, meanwhile, will set up to try and upset the status quo.

“We don’t want to be here to just experience the World Cup,” Goodwin said. “We want to go as far as we can and do the best we possibly can, and we believe that we can qualify for the knockout stages. That’s what we will be preparing for.”


Emma Kemp in Doha

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