Australia’s World Cup heroes hope their surprise run to the last 16 will transform football at home after they went down fighting in a 2-1 defeat to a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina.
It was only the second time that the Socceroos had got this far at the tournament and there was a sense of pride after being edged out in Qatar on Saturday to one of the pre-World Cup favourites.
Attacking midfielder Riley McGree, who plays in England with second-tier Middlesbrough said: “Just be proud, hold our heads high with what we’ve done here and hopefully inspired generations to come.”
“To do what we’ve done, you could say it’s ground-breaking and moving forward it’s only going to be good for the sport in the country,” the 24-year-old added.
Graham Arnold’s squad matched the “golden generation” from the 2006 World Cup of Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka in reaching the last 16.
Their 1-0 group-stage wins over Tunisia and European semi-finalists Denmark were the first time Australia had won successive games at a World Cup.
Messi scored the opener and then a defensive blunder put Argentina 2-0 up, but an Australia team strong on togetherness and hard work pegged them back with a deflected shot by Craig Goodwin 13 minutes from time.
The Socceroos then had chances to equalise late on, with Aziz Behich bursting from full-back on a mazy run which took him deep into the Argentina area before a last-gasp Lisandro Martinez challenge.
Teenager Garang Kuol also had a golden chance in the remaining seconds.
Goodwin admitted to “mixed emotions”.
“Disappointed to go out at this stage but to push Argentina to the very end… we gave it everything we’ve got and we had a couple of chances with Aziz and Garang and could have taken it into extra time.
“But we’re proud of what we’ve done and everything we’ve achieved.
“The biggest thing for us is we hope we’ve inspired the next generation of Australian boys and girls to do even better than what we’ve achieved here.
“Hopefully what we’ve achieved can put Australian football on the map and help the game grow,” Goodwin added.
The 30-year-old scored nine minutes into Australia’s World Cup opener to stun France, before the holders roared back to win 4-1.
The Socceroos then recovered to reach the last 16, their combination of hard work, unity and defensive nous, together with some moments of quality, pushing Argentina to the very end.
“We have the Aussie DNA, the Aussie spirit,” said Goodwin.
“If we can produce the same level of technical ability and level of tactical ability as some European nations and South American nations and then have the Aussie DNA, we have a real chance to do something special.”
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