Yesterday evening Australia took on Hungary in Budapest, in their final warm-up match ahead of this summer’s World Cup Finals in Russia, running out 2-1 victors against their unlucky hosts. Being a local of Budapest these days, I went along to cover the game for hungarianfootball.com – you can read my report on the game for them here – and also get a now rare first-hand glimpse of Tom Rogic in action.
Unsurprisingly for anyone who has watched Rogic develop over the past few years at Celtic, the mercurial midfielder is highly regarded by the Socceroo’s and seen as the talisman of the current team. One Aussie journalist I spoke to before the game described Rogic as being “different gravy”; can there be a higher compliment?
Such is the esteem with which Rogic is held in his homeland, that there is a genuine feeling that with him in the team, Australia could surprise a few nations at the World Cup. Generally speaking, the Aussie press were quite grounded with regards their nations aspirations for this summer – basically, just put up a good account themselves and don’t get embarrassed – but whenever Rogic’s name was mentioned they began to allow themselves to dream that maybe he could be the man to drag them through to the knock-outs, and then who knows what might happen.
Rogic’s importance to the team was again underlined in national team manager Bert van Marwijk’s post-match press conference; the Dutchman lamenting the lack of service Rogic received in the first half and citing him as the man who can make things happen when given the chance.
Unfortunately for Rogic and Australia, Hungary had clearly done their homework on their opponents and made cutting off the supply to the Australian number 23 a key feature of their game. Laszlo Kleinheisler, who Celtic fans may remember from the ties against Astana – was instrumental in the midfield, breaking up numerous Australian attacks with vital interceptions before Rogic could work his magic.
Well marshalled denied any quality service, Rogic had little impact in what was a decidedly dull first half that only threatened to come to live briefly as the half came to a close. The second, however, proved a little more fruitful as van Marwijk’s half-time instructions to get closer to Rogic and feed him earlier were ringing in the player’s ears. Still quiet by his usual standard, Rogic began to influence the game more, creating a couple of half-chances following trademark slalom runs.
As is the norm, Rogic didn’t last much past the hour mark and was replaced by ex-Celt Jackson Irvine who would later go on to set-up the winner in a bizarre ending to the game in which both captains scored own-goals within 5 minutes of each other. This coming after another sub, Daniel Arzani, had opened the scoring with a curling effort from outside the box that Dibusz in the Hungarian goal should have dealt with comfortably.
For Rogic and Australia, Group C consisting of France, Denmark, and Peru await in Russia. Would you bet against Rogic inspiring the Socceroo’s to the knock-outs for the second time in their history?
For Hungary – who know’s what’s next for a nation that is very much in transition under new, and under-fire coach George Leekens? Despite the obvious signs of progress made in yesterday’s game there seemed to be an almost accepted inevitability about the outcome. Even the cries of “Bazd meg” (fuck off) from the press box at the calamitous Australian winner were muted.
As an aside – I’d like to take the opportunity to thank the guys at hungarianfootball.com for giving me the chance to “live the dream” and cover a game from the press section. Also, just to keep the Oscars vibe going, big thanks to Ben O’Neill, Media Officer at the Football Federation Australia, who helped get me into the press section after an overly officious security guard initially refused to allow myself and another Australian journalist in for not having our press credentials on us; credentials we were to pick up INSIDE the ground.