Australia's South African adventure may have come to an early end but their talismanic midfielder Tim Cahill was nothing but positive after the Socceroos signed off their FIFA World Cup™ campaign with victory over Serbia. Even though they had fallen just short on goal difference to Ghana in Group D, the returning Cahill – wrapped in an Australian flag and wearing a yellow and blue jester's hat – seemed the picture of contentment after the Socceroos had left the Mbombela Stadium pitch to a standing ovation.
After a scoreless first half in Nelspruit, Australia came out and stunned Serbia by taking a two-goal lead before a late reply made the final score 2-1. Cahill, sent off during the Germany loss that opened their tournament and suspended for the ensuing draw with Ghana, scored the opener that breathed life into the Aussies' campaign and left them in with a shout of reaching the knockout stage.
And while he said immediately after that the win was "not that sweet", Cahill admitted that it was at least a positive. In fact, he balked when it was suggested that victory had a taste of the bitter to it. "No, I wouldn't say that even," he told FIFA.com. "It's unbelievable to have played in the World Cup after last week. I didn't even know if I would get another chance to play here. There was a lot of discussion after the Germany game, whether it was my fault to get sent off or not, but it made me want to come back, and come back and play great."
Although they were already two goals down by the time Cahill was shown red in the 56th minute against the Germans, it is hard not to wonder how different things may have been if he had not been sent off and missed the 1-1 draw with the Black Stars. "Oh no, it was great anyway," he said. "If we beat Ghana, yeah you know, but that's in hindsight. It's over now, and this was a great result. Now we just have to look past it and take the positives, and the positive is we've shown what we can do, we've got great team spirit and we've got loads of young talent coming through.”
When asked about Cahill's importance to the Aussies, outgoing coach Pim Verbeek said the "impact player" was one of the most consistent and important on his side. "There's no doubt, he's always there when you need him," the Dutchman told FIFA.com "He's always scored goals. His work-rate is fantastic. The team feels more confident when he is out there, so we missed him after the sending-off against Germany and then especially against Ghana. It was a big loss, but he showed today how much he can help the team."
While Cahill would admit to being one of the leaders of the team, he was quick to say after the match that the Asian representatives were a unit that "have no heroes". But typical of his bustling style, he said he prefers to lead through action. "I think being asked to lead is fantastic, but you have to show it on the pitch. I work hard for my team and run from the first minute to the very end." His 69th-minute goal, which brought a noticeable spark to the yellow-clad side, was a perfect example. From a long cross from the left wing, the Serbia defence seemingly had it covered, but the battling Cahill showed more determination and timing than his rival to sneak in and head the ball past the stunned goalkeeper.
But like the leader that he is, Cahill was quick to credit his team-mate for the pass. "It was a great ball from Wilko [Luke Wilkshire] and that was it," he said before describing the moment. "I've been working hard the last couple of days on making solid contact and letting the ball do the work instead of trying to hit it so hard. I just tried to put it in the corner, and I'm just buzzing that it went in."