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I am a twenty five year old first year teacher nervously preparing for my latest test of character ? year ten drama.
Whilst I nervously run over my lesson plan my mind drifts to the weekend ahead. I?m going to travel down to Sydney and go to the World Cup. Some may say international rugby league is a farce, but nothing peaks my interest better than the prospect of seeing the greatest game of all being played by rival nations.
I remember waking up with the dawn when I was sixteen and avidly watching as Lebanon and the Cook Islands played out a scrappy 24 all draw. I remember the dizzying high of seeing Wales take Australia to school in the first half of their semi final, teasing fans for a moment at the prospect of a World Cup final without the Kangaroos.
It?s been eight long years since the abysmal failure (financially speaking) that was the 2000 World Cup. In those years we?ve seen Gold Coast rejoin the NRL family, we?ve seen the tri-series improve in leaps and bounds, and we?ve seen legends like Andrew Johns hang up the boots.
?Oh wise and powerful time-travelling Chris, who is participating in this World Cup?? I hear you say, arms outstretched and eyes upturned.
Sanity prevailed. The World Cup has sixteen nations divided into four pools of four. None of this ten team crap, and we didn?t go crazy like a certain ?other? code and go for overkill with twenty. There are the usual suspects, of course. Australia, New Zealand, England, France, and Papua New Guinea were all gifted spots due to their outstanding history in the sport. Then there?s the teams like Ireland, Lebanon, Scotland, Wales, and Russia ? all of whom earned qualification due to their performance in tournaments such as the Mediterranean and European Nations Cups, both of which were given added legitimacy by being made official qualifiers. The final six nations, given no chance by the average punter; are the USA, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, the Cook Islands, and the true underdogs, Malta.
How did it go? Well, with the final set to take place tomorrow night, I guess I?m in a perfect position to tell you. The tournament opened in fine style, with the hosts and favourites Australia winning a thrilling match against New Zealand, 22-17 in front of a huge Sydney crowd. Once the pool stages had ended, Australia?s appetite for international rugby league had been well and truly whet. The French, bolstered by their own professional side in the English Super League, made a real showing ? whilst nations like Lebanon and Malta impressed quite a few people due to their ability to draw on some of Australia?s most talented young juniors.
The finals, spread across Australia to truly showcase the game, were all played in exciting fashion, even if they were mostly one-sided. Australia ended the dreams of the Irish in an entertaining bout that saw the Irish really push the Aussies, England bundled out Lebanon in fine style, Wales went down to the always dangerous Kiwis, and the French went into extra time in a match of the tournament rated clash against Papua New Guinea. In the end only a late field goal from 2008 Man of Steel winner Julien Rinaldi taking out man of the match honours after nailing a field goal under heavy pressure.
And so the semi finals were last weekend, and we couldn?t have hoped for a more exciting pair of matches. The Australians continued their history of breaking the hearts of the English - Jarred Mullen and Greg Inglis starring in a high scoring 34-26 victory to the tournament favourites. On the other side of the draw, France continued to be the miracle workers of the competition, somehow managing to down New Zealand 12-8 in a match that must surely be remembered as one of the most torrid in recent memory.
And now it?s down to Australia and France. The old school versus a nation on the rise. Isn?t this the stuff international football dreams are made of? I can?t wait.
November 2005, 6am
Must?ve been soccer.
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