ICYMI: The Socceroos play France on Saturday night in their World Cup opener and surely the eyeballs of every sports-loving Australian will be glued to the screen — even those uneducated eyeballs that occasionally dart down to the program to find out who Number 7 is*.

This is one of those rare occasions that transcends sporting taste; a must-watch game that does not require the kind of hyper-parochialism that attracts audiences to lesser international events such as the Olympics.

The Socceroos playing a prime-time match against the astonishingly talented French in their opening match on the world's biggest sporting stage.

If you are not watching that, you either have the dullest of sporting taste buds or you are suffering some form of post-traumatic football stress caused by attending too many Central Coast Mariners-Wellington Phoenix games.

Yet there are three other football codes scheduled to take place at the same time as the World Cup game, presumably in the expectation some viewers will watch them without having accidentally bumped the remote control.

Wallabies celebrate David Pocock's try against Ireland

The Wallabies kick-off the second Test against Ireland at precisely the same time as the Socceroos (8pm AEST), while Hawthorn and Port Adelaide and the Sharks and Broncos will be well into their home and away scraps when the first whistle blows in Kazan Arena.

You can throw in the one-day international between Australia and England at Cardiff if you like.

Although if captain Tim Paine plays another kamikaze reverse sweep you can assume even he would prefer to be back in the rooms watching the Socceroos.

This scheduling imbroglio is at least partly coincidental.

Tim Cahill watches the ball during training

The competing games had been booked before the Socceroos were given a rare prime-time start and with modern sport beholden to the great god of television, fixturing is as flexible as an octogenarian's hamstrings.

Still, it says something about the nation's sporting landscape that the various competitors — Rugby Australia, the AFL and NRL — would even consider going head-to-head with what would be, in most other nations, the only football game on the screen.

To the most evangelistic football fans, it will say Australia is a parochial backwater that has failed to fully embrace the "world game" which constantly faces obstructionist opposition from self-interested local codes.

The Socceroos squad links arm with supporters in the background at training

To others, Saturday night's festival of the boot will merely be another compelling demonstration that Australia is a fortunate spoiled-for-choice footballing nation where viewers have the right to pick and choose.

But even if you find the so-called battle of the code about as intriguing as the full box set of CSI Wagga Wagga, the viewing figures from Saturday night that either (surely!) confirm Australians watched the World Cup in huge number or (say it ain't so!) were more evenly divided along code lines, will be the source of some fascination.

If the Socceroos' game seems like a Hollywood blockbuster in comparison with the AFL, NRL and rugby union's straight-to-video productions, this World Cup has not had the pre-tournament buzz of other recent editions.

In 2006 we had the long-anticipated return of the drought-breaking Socceroos. In 2010 and 2014, Australians were still riding the expectations created by that wonderful golden-era team.

Shaun Burgoyne celebrates kicking goal for Hawthorn

This time a team hardly replete with household names did not play a home international under its new coach and arrived in Russia with extremely modest external expectations.

Thus any hype around the Socceroos will be built by its performance in Russia alone. Not, as has previously been the case, come with their mere presence at the World Cup.

This is a blessing for Australia's coaches and players who have flown under the radar. But unless there is a miraculous result against France or grand performances against Denmark and Peru, it is not ideal for the marketing men hoping to cover more than just a few petrol pumps in green and gold during their quadrennial moment in the sun.

So who won't be watching the Socceroos? No doubt some Wallabies fans, particularly after the impressive victory over the Number 2-ranked Ireland in the first Test. One that rekindled the spirits of those resigned to entering a nuclear rugby winter.

Although it is typical of Rugby Australia's recent fortunes that the Wallabies win a big game and chief executive Raelene Castle is spared another trip to the office of the game's self-styled headmaster Alan Jones for a jolly good dressing down, yet they are forced to go head-to-head with the World Cup the next week.

No doubt some diehard AFL fans will at least be switching between channels. Despite the fact they have been officially informed their game is now unwatchable and there are more committees contemplating rule changes than there are regulating parliamentary procedures.

Brisbane Broncos' Darius Boyd celebrates a try against the Cronulla Sharks

But as the AFL demonstrated throughout the 2022 World Cup bid, its administrators would rather work for mere six-figure pay cheques than concede a single free day to "sokkah". Particularly now that the customary bottle of champagne opened at AFL headquarters when the Socceroos failed to reach the World Cup finals has been on ice for 12 years.

So there was no chance the Hawthorn-Port game would be moved from its seemingly inconvenient timeslot.

The NRL game between the Sharks and the Broncos? A significant encounter between two finals aspirants clawing for positions during the mid-Origin period. Any other time, maybe …

But surely this is football's night of nights. If you are not watching the Socceroos, you are not watching the big game.

*Mathew Leckie

Original Article

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