Australia’s World Cup heroes are hoping their surprise knockout round will transform football at home after struggling with a 2-1 loss to a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina.
It was only the second time the Socceroos had come this far at the tournament and there was a sense of pride after being edged out against one of the pre-World Cup favorites in Qatar on Saturday.
Attacking midfielder Riley McGree, who plays for England’s second division side Middlesbrough, said: “Just be proud, keep our heads high with what we’ve achieved here and hopefully inspired generations to come.”
“Doing what we have done you could say it is groundbreaking and it will only be good for the sport in the country,” added the 24-year-old.
Graham Arnold’s team joined the ‘golden generation’ of Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka in reaching the last 16 at the World Championships in 2006.
1-0 group stage victories against Tunisia and European semi-finalists Denmark marked Australia’s first consecutive World Cup win.
Messi scored the opening goal and then a defensive error gave Argentina a 2-0 lead, but an Aussie team keen on unity and hard work drove them back with a deflected shot from Craig Goodwin with 13 minutes to go.
The Socceroos then later had chances to equalize when Aziz Behich burst from full-back in a labyrinthine run that took him deep into the Argentine area before challenging Lisandro Martinez at the last minute.
Teenager Garang Kuol also had a golden opportunity in the remaining seconds.
Goodwin admitted “mixed feelings”.
“I’m disappointed to be eliminated at this stage but to push Argentina to the end… we gave everything we have and we had a couple of chances with Aziz and Garang and could have taken it into overtime.
“But we are proud of what we have done and what we have achieved.
“The most important thing for us is that we hope that we have inspired the next generation of Australian boys and girls to do even better than what we have achieved here.
“Hopefully what we have achieved can put Australian football on the map and help the game grow,” added Goodwin.
The 30-year-old scored nine minutes into Australia’s World Cup opener to stun France before the defending champions roared back to win 4-1.
The Socceroos then rallied to reach the last 16, their combination of hard work, unity and defensive prowess, along with some quality moments, pushed Argentina to the end.
“We have the Australian DNA, the Australian spirit,” Goodwin said.
“If we can show the same level of technical ability and tactical ability as some European nations and South American nations and then have the Australian DNA, then we have a real opportunity to do something special.”