And that’s why we love football

Just as Australian fans began to lose faith, the Socceroos deliver a result that leaves us cheering and singing yet again.

Football, you are a cruel and wicked temptress.

Just as Socceroos fans began to lose faith in the whole shebang, you flutter your eyelids, swagger into the room and sweep us off our feet all over again.

And of course, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Last night-s 4-0 romp in Melbourne has left us just 90 minutes away from an extraordinary third consecutive FIFA World Cup.

Think about that for just a moment.

For those of us who grew up with the heartbreak of countless near misses and what-ifs, it’s as if we’ve gone from the Wright brothers to the space shuttle in just 10 years.

In March the Socceroos were listless and clueless against Oman at home, rescuing a 2-0 deficit that would have spelled disaster for their World Cup dream with a brace of late goals.

That performance can be thanked, in some part, for the rejuvenation of a team that limped through the middle stretch of the qualification campaign struggling to score goals at one end and scrambling to stop them at the other.

It seemed Holger Osieck was running out of patience and ideas.

And then there was “Thwaitegate”.

The sight of Robbie Cornthwaite and Michael Thwaite in the centre of the back four against Oman had fans despairing that the only decent defence the Socceroos could mount these days would be from their lawyers.

The Oman stalemate acted as shock therapy for Osieck and his men. Suddenly imperiled, they had to shake off their complacency.

The return of Sasa Ognenovski and a fit Lucas Neill to the bedrock of the defence restored order and steel to the back four.

Both veterans were immense and central to the heroic performance in Saitama against Japan, and in Melbourne they were imposing and impassable.

Osiek’s decision to overlook Ognenovski for long stretches of the campaign was a folly on par with Guus Hidink’s benching of Mark Schwarzer in Stuttgart for the game against Croatia in 2006.

For Neill, his return has been a triumphant act of defiance.

The Socceroos captain had been derided for his calamitous cameo at Sydney FC where he was barely sighted. Having played fewer than half a dozen games in 12 months it was presumed the book had closed on his tenure in the national team.

Instead, his recent performances – a first Socceroos goal – look like the start of a new chapter all together.

And then there is Tim Cahill. Of course he scored last night. It’s what he does.

His record of 28 goals in 68 appearances for Australia is a phenomenal achievement, that sits comfortably alongside Wayne Rooney’s 36 goals in 83 matches for England or Lionel Messi’s 32 in 79 for Argentina.

That’s the sort of company he keeps.

It’s what makes him pound-for-pound Australia’s best big-game performer in any sport since Don Bradman.

And while the golden generation shine on, it’s generation next we look toward for signs that they’re capable of carrying the Socceroos forward.

Tommy Oar’s man-of-the-match effort in Japan and Robbie Kruse’s virtuoso performance in Melbourne proves that Osieck has enough young creative talent to build a competitive unit around.

Kruse is almost unrecognisable from the lippy brat that was all but chased out of Brisbane Roar 5 years ago.

From a fight outside a Brisbane nightclub, to A-League terror with Melbourne Victory, to the German Bundesliga, Kruse has become the Socceroos- most potent attacking weapon.

Still, there’s work to do against Iraq next week in Sydney, and having learnt the hard way that presumption is the enemy of success, Osieck and his senior players will be relentlessly reminding their young teammates just that.

A win for The Socceroos means qualification for a third consecutive FIFA World Cup finals. For some, the capping off of a glittering career and etch their name into Australian football folklore, for others the emergence of our next generation of stars. Stars we hope will carry the green and gold of Australia proudly into the future.