By Nick Mulvenney
DOHA (Reuters) – Aziz Behich believes Australia’s World Cup campaign has created the perfect opportunity for football to take a massive step forward in a country where it often struggles for profile in a crowded marketplace.
The full back, who came close to scoring a late equaliser in Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Argentina that ended Australia’s interest in the tournament in Qatar, said it was time for others to exploit the interest generated by their run to the last 16.
“This should be a massive stepping stone for football in Australia to go forward,” Behich told reporters on Sunday.
“I’m hoping that we’ve inspired the next generation coming through to know that it’s possible to match the best in the world, even being Australian …
“This is the perfect moment for Australian football to step forward and get more recognised back home.”
Behich said the Socceroos felt they had shown they were a good footballing team, not just physical and hardworking, as they picked up wins over Tunisia and Denmark to finish level on points with group winners France.
“We’ve accomplished something that no other Socceroos team has, we’ve kept clean sheets, we’ve scored in every game in a World Cup and … we only lost to France and Argentina,” the 31-year-old added.
“We’ve done our part and the other part to grow the game, that bit’s out of our hands.”
Behich credited Argentina defender Lisandro Martinez with a “great tackle” to stop his mazy late run into the box on Saturday but said coming so close to equalising had made the loss harder to take.
“I thought we deserved more last night, they way we bowed out, it hurt, it hurt a lot. I couldn’t be more proud of the team, myself, but it was just a tough one to take in, when that final whistle went,” he said.
“We had chances at the end, but that’s football, and we left everything out on that pitch.”
Behich paid tribute to the environment coach Graham Arnold and his staff created in the team camp and said, on the playing side at least, there was much promise.
“The young boys that have come into this camp have been unbelievable,” he added.
“I’m proud of them, they took it in their stride, they didn’t look out of place in this environment.
“The future’s bright and hopefully this is another step forward for Australian football.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Ed Osmond)