The Aussies take on the Serbs today at 8:30 p.m. local time, with coverage on ESPN2 starting at 2:30 p.m. Eastern for all you stateside World Cup fans. Both teams are out for blood – the Socceroos (yes, really) and the White Eagles both need a victory to have a chance at getting into the second round.
Australia has had a rather strange World Cup thus far, with a controversial red card benching a tearful Tim Cahill for the Aussies’ second game, and another red card ending star Harry Kewell’s World Cup after only 25 minutes of play against Ghana. Serbia is also walking a fine line with six players having yellow cards under their belts already. But both teams still have a shot at advancing despite losing their first games, so let’s take a look at what makes these vastly different countries unique.
Soccer Cultures, or Lack Thereof
Serbia is viewed as the successor to both the Yugoslav and Serbia & Montenegro national teams – this is the first World Cup in which the team has been known simply as “Serbia.” Including these defunct teams’ records, Serbia has been to the World Cup 11 times, eight more than the Socceroos, and has finished in fourth place twice. Soccer ranks as one of the most popular sports in the country, and a disappointing finish in 2006, including a 6-0 loss to Argentina, means the Serbs have something to prove.
In the land of Oz, soccer competes with national obsessions like cricket, Aussie-rules football, and rugby. A taste of success at the 2006 World Cup, when the Socceroos made it to the second round of play before being ousted by eventual champ Italy, hasn’t done much to boost Aussies’ spirits about this year. A win, however, would certainly bring out that famous Australian pride in their athletes.
Foods of the Bizarre
Neither country is particularly renowned for its fine cuisine. But they do both have some strange items on the national menu – Australia, of course, has Vegemite, a yeast-based spread that Aussie kids love and would probably make most Americans see it in reverse, while Serbians are well known for drinking slivovitz, a plum-juice brandy. Both countries also love their meat – the Serbian national dish is ćevapčići, grilled patties of ground meat, while many Australian restaurants serve kangaroo and emu meat.
Weirdest natural wonder?
It’s a close call. Serbia’s got Devil’s Town, a 46,000 square foot jungle of 200 jagged towers made of eroded red rock and soil. The towers, which range from heights of six to 50 feet, are continually destroyed and reborn by the forces of erosion.
The red color of the towers and the water in the nearby mineral springs, as well as the strange noises created by wind whipping between the structures, have inspired generations-worth of demon-filled superstitions about the area. Devil’s Town is currently on the “Tentative”
list to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Down under, meanwhile, looms Kata Tjuta, the lesser-known landmark in Australia’s red center, about 16 miles from Ayers Rock in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Kata Tjuta (which translates as “many heads” in the local Aboriginal language) is a group of 36 massive rock domes that covers over eight square miles. The highest point is nearly 1,800 feet above the desert, and the whole complex is great for hiking – unlike the dangerous and culturally taboo climb up Ayers Rock. Appearing like giant orange bubbles rising up from the Outback, Kata Tjuta is a truly unbelievable sight. Like Devil’s Town, it also has a place in ancient folklore, functioning as a ritual site and centerpiece for several creation stories in Aboriginal culture.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
So, which of these countries is destined for Round 2?
Tune in this afternoon to find out. And for more on the nations behind the teams, check out our guides to Australia
Photo: toksuede via Flickr