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Passion Plays in the Wee Hours

THE World Cup is going to be in 3D. Especially for me — I’m going to be there in South Africa.  But for the first time, the tournament is also being broadcast in 3D. Yes, for those of you who kept your glasses after going to see Jaws 3-D in 1983, the decision is finally set to pay off. When Les Murray name checks the likes of ‘‘di Natale’’ and ‘‘Gattuso’’, it’s going to feel like the spit is coming right at you. And when Fozzie pulls out the telestrator to explain the offside trap, it will be as if he’s drawing on your face.

Of course, it will only be a handful of audiovisual trailblazers who, as that well-known soothsayer Corey Hart so famously predicted, will be wearing their sunglasses at night. The rest of the nation’s football fans will be soaking up the greatest show on earth in the trusty old dimensions of length and width  as TVs across the nation pitch camp on SBS, and stay there, like a family doing the  Christmas break at Rosebud. More than any other broadcast event, the World Cup breeds a hardy sense of community. ‘‘Where are you going to watch it?’’ will become a default conversation starter and for Australia’s games against Germany, Ghana and Serbia, the ‘‘it’’ will require no further explanation.

Some will opt for late-night or early morning sorties to soccer pubs such as the Charles Dickens or the Celtic Club, having to make peer-pressured, sleep-deprived decisions on whether a cappuccino or a pint is the best way to celebrate a 4.30am kick-off.

Others will brave Arctic temperatures and stand shoulder to shoulder with compatriots at a live site. Federation Square was so successful  at the 2006 World Cup that it has been shut down for this year’s tournament. The City of Melbourne and Victoria Police have baulked at so many people gathering in an open unfenced area. For South Africa 2010, there will be a live site at Birramung Marr, but there will be fences.

Others still will follow time-honoured suburban rituals with friends and family. My own ‘‘soccer family’’, the ones who attend every Melbourne Victory home game in aisle 46, row R at Etihad Stadium, gather at Joe and Connie’s house in Pascoe Vale South. The back light is left on, the side gate unlocked. When he hears footsteps along the path, Joe flicks the switch on the espresso machine. Nobody speaks much. Everyone has their spots. To move is to tempt fate with football gods that are powerful and all-knowing insofar as couch positions in Pascoe Vale South are concerned. My friend Rita, who with her son Tom is the most regular attendee, calls Joe ‘‘the keeper of the church’’.

‘‘There’s nothing more special than getting up at that time,’’ Rita says. ‘‘It’s so still — frosty and icy. It’s magic. It’s like a spiritual retreat. You drive away after the match thinking you got to do something that the rest of the world has missed out on. That’s why we like watching it at a home. It’s more than just the hype. It’s about the beauty of it. You can’t pray in chaos.’’

Santo Cilauro, one of the hosts of Santo, Sam and Ed’s Cup Fever, which will air nightly on SBS during the tournament, believes there is something very Australian about it. ‘‘We grew up with these rituals. The Italians have their piazzas. We’ve got waking up at 4am and sitting with your dad or your friends in a dressing gown with a slice of toast. I’ve been spoiled, I’ve been to the last three World Cups but the one thing I’ve missed is the ritual of watching in the middle of the night.’’

I’ve been spoiled, too. Having attended France ’98 as part of Race Around the World and Germany ’06 to write Australia United, I’ll be at the first World Cup in Africa as a correspondent for Santo’s show. My brief is to have fun and to keep my eyes open for the swarm of stories that buzz around an event as big as this. At Germany 2006, I saw Mexican soap stars filming scenes outside Bavarian restaurants advertising themselves as serving the ‘‘best part of the offal’’. I watched as excited Rita delivered a 19-pack of Cherry Ripes to the Australian team bus because she had heard Sheree Kewell say that they were Harry’s favourite food. And after we lost, I saw two distraught Socceroos fans administer the last rites and close the foam rubber eyelids on an inflatable kangaroo. The sheet they used to cover its head was an Australian flag.

I also met Les Murray, throwing out a hand in his direction as he charged for the security check at the Olympiastadion, nine minutes before kick-off for the World Cup final. I was a chance for a ticket myself and was sweating profusely from a 40-minute run-train-run to the stadium,  scaring Les a little with my wild, panting declarations. ‘‘Les, Les, Les! I’m Tony from Australia. I just wanted to say thanks. Thanks for the 30 years.’’ I eventually let go of his hand. He said, ‘‘No problems’’ and flashed those terrific television teeth, as if there really hadn’t been any problems.

If Johnny Warren is football’s departed prophet, Les is exalted as its media lord and saviour. He will head the coverage in South Africa and irrespective of whether his performance is as sharp or as fluent as it was at the peak of his powers, he is still the one who led the game out of the wilderness. I’m not sure whether Moses ever hosted football coverage. If he did, I’m guessing he did it to almost universally good reviews.

Craig Foster will be in Cape Town too, greying as attractively as ever and providing analysis and special comments. Fozzie does what special-comments guys have to do, which is say things that offend the players. He’s good value. David Basheer has the big job of calling Australia’s games. In 2006, Simon Hill was stunningly successful in the role and his ebullient ‘‘Tim Cahill has done it again; what a goal by Tim Cahill!’’ provided the gilt engraving to a timeless sporting moment. It was even my ringtone for three months but I ditched it because it would get me choked up for phone calls confirming dentist appointments. Basheer doesn’t quite have Hill’s range but he does have an enormous depth of knowledge and experience.

As for how the Socceroos will go, the answer is simple. We will win the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

After rampaging through the group stage with nine points out of nine and 11 goals, we’ll power through the second round, stumbling slightly in the semi-final when we will concede a goal to Brazil, only for Craig Moore to save the day by burying a header and a bicycle kick in injury time. We’ll then roll on to the final and win 4-1 against a clearly inferior Spanish outfit. As that last goal rolls in, Pim will do the Macarena and high-five the entire bench before finally relenting and positioning a second man up front. You read it first here.