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Call me a pile of dust and soot, because I’ve been swept up in the FIFA World Cup Qatar hype.

Let me preface this blog by saying I’m not a traditional football (soccer) fan. I haven’t grown up watching or playing the game. I don’t come from a family or community where football is part of the furniture. 

But I am a sports fan, and I love and admire the passion of those who follow all kinds of different sports – even if they’re not for me. 

The most I ever saw and followed of football was firstly the Socceroos’ 2006 World Cup campaign in Germany, followed by roughly the 2007-2009 releases of FIFA on Xbox 360 which I played with my brother. You couldn’t stop me from scoring a beautifully finessed shot into the top-right corner of the net with Liverpool’s Fernando Torres.

But that’s about where it ended. 

So how did I, the guy who every four years would poke his head out and see what the Socceroos were up to, become Miss Honey in Matilda (1996) slowly taking off my glasses with a big gaping look of awe as I watched the Socceroos take on the world in Qatar?

Firstly, I’m one of the very lucky ones that had the opportunity to be there through my job. 

I’ve been a part of many different sporting events and leagues in seven years of work since leaving university – Men’s and Women’s Cricket World Cups, Big Bash League finals, the AFL Grand Final and more. 

However, the FIFA World Cup was something I never imagined I’d ever work at, let alone attend.

So that opportunity was absolutely incredible and an experience I’ll never forget. However, just being there wasn’t enough to make someone a fan. Just being there wasn’t enough to make someone take notice or show any interest in what was really happening. 

Something special had to happen.

Enter, Mitch Duke.

The maligned Australian striker came up trumps, scoring a header that proved to be the difference as the Socceroos claimed a historic and gruelling 1-0 win over Tunisia to set up the rest of their World Cup campaign. 

You better believe more than a few eyebrows (including my own) were raised and the foreign coverage and interest picked up after this, too.

Suddenly, the local TV broadcast coverage would spend entire segments between matches talking about the Socceroos and how they were a genuine chance to progress.

Foreign journalists and cameras appeared at Socceroos training. Other country’s fans and Qatari locals were recognising the green and gold jerseys we wore around town and gave us high-fives and said congratulations.

Something special was happening, and it wasn’t just Australia who knew it.

Prior to defeating Tunisia, we were just making up the numbers in Group D and consigned to the bottom of the group in every expert’s predictions. 

Even I was guilty of assuming I’d be back home in Australia by December 3 once Australia were knocked out of the Group Stage. 

But the Socceroos had other plans. The guys consistently spoke at each media opportunity about how they were a proper team – they all played together and for each other. It wasn’t about a single superstar leading the rest.

I think in FIFA terms, this would be defined as ‘team chemistry’. 

So there I was in the stands, come a 1-0 win over Denmark which saw the Socceroos advance beyond the Group Stage at the FIFA World Cup for only the second time ever, texting my girlfriend to say I wouldn’t be home on December 3 as originally planned.

Was I exhausted from the long hours of work those few weeks? Yes. Was I homesick? Absolutely. 

But this was a World Cup. A World Cup where Australia were actually playing some of their best football ever. And I was there.

I would have been happy to witness one Australian goal and maybe even a draw, but instead, I was treated to four goals, two incredible wins, a nail-biting Round of 16 clash with eventual champions Argentina including the G.O.A.T. Lionel Messi scoring, as well as a masterclass from the one likely to take his mantle in the future, Kylian Mbappe Harry Souttar.

I became big Harry Souttar’s number one fan when the man-giant took flight to make a game-saving tackle against Tunisia in the dying minutes to help secure a vital 1-0 win for the Socceroos.

But in all seriousness, I believe it acts like this from the players that this World Cup campaign was built on and saw the Socceroos appeal to the Aussie spirit of having a red hot crack more so than at any World Cup campaign before. 

The underdog spirit and sport are a match made in heaven, and the Socceroos’ FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 campaign was another chapter written in Australia’s rich sporting history.

It was an incredibly special thing to witness and be a part of – and that’s why you’ll find me taking much more interest in the Socceroos moving forward.

Jonno Rundell

Author Jonno Rundell

Jonno loves being creative and prides himself on his diverse skills in content production and design (as well as his record collection at home). Before joining Bruce Media in mid-2022, Jonno spent over seven years working primarily in cricket (Cricket Australia, Melbourne Stars and Cricket Victoria) amongst shorter stints in football (Melbourne Victory) and running his own freelance business during COVID lockdowns.

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