For Australia, the first team at these finals in South Africa to be comprehensively outclassed, the pain of defeat and humiliation was etched in deep lines across the faces of the players. "It's a devastating loss, a big loss to a very good German team," captain Lucas Neill told FIFA.com.
Neill, who spent virtually 90 minutes of the 4-0 defeat in Durban chasing the likes of Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose and Thomas Mueller around the Moses Mabhida pitch, added: "We need to remain positive. We have to keep believing that we can win the next two games." Positive words but the look on his face showed a man with a lot of questions on his mind.
"It's amazing how dreams can be made and crushed in the space of just hours and minutes," said Tim Cahill, whose reckless tackle on Bastian Schweinsteiger saw him sent off in the 56th minute as the Aussies desperately tried to make an impact on the game. The expulsion effectively ended a fight that was little more than ceremonial up to that point. "I'm gutted and it’s a hard thing to explain," added the Everton man and veteran of Australia’s run to the Round of 16 four years ago in Germany, likely playing in his last FIFA World Cup.
"With Tim [Cahill] out for the next game it’s the opportunity for one of the other lads in the team to get an opportunity, and to show what he's worth," Neill added, eager to escape the glare of the spotlight on such a night. With big centre-forward Josh Kennedy and Harry Kewell on the bench, Australia coach Pim Verbeek looked like setting out a defensive side from the start. But after conceding in the eighth and 26th minutes to Podolski and Klose strikes, Australia were forced to come out of their shell. "The Germans are a strong team, it's no accident they have the reputation they do," said defender Craig Moore.
The score could have been far worse than 4-0, and it stands as an ominous start for the Australians, who began their last FIFA World Cup with a 3-1 comeback win over Japan, a game in which eight of tonight's starters played. "We’re shattered, completely devastated," Moore added. "We're on a big stage here and we want to do our families and our friends proud. We didn’t do that tonight and it’s a hard thing to take."
As doom and self-doubt threaten to seep into the character and spirit the Aussies pride themselves on, captain Neill has the final word. "Now we have a few days to build ourselves back up and get that confidence that was knocked back. The spirit is very good," he stressed, bristling at suggestions otherwise. "It's just been dented."