Revisiting November 16 2005

A photo taken by a friend’s dearly departed father from where we watched the shootout in Sydney. A moment etched in time. 

For a brief moment between 2001 and 2005 Australia believed that we would get a free ride to the World Cup in Germany with Oceania having their own qualification spot. Then, of course, it was taken away through grubby politics and false promises and we were left to again take the near on impossible task to qualify by playing the fifth best South American side. Live on SBS early on a Thursday morning they showed the final round of games with Columbia or our good friends Uruguay making the cut. Uruguay defeating Argentina meant it would be a rematch of 2001 and the post traumatic stress disorder brought on by many past Australian failures returned for two generations of fans.

We Australians weren’t now led by a Frank Farina for the play off this time though. Frank was a bit of a tactical numpty employed by a morally and financially bankrupt governing body in 2001. Frank Farina had been cast out of Australian Football’s new Frank Lowy led Eden after a pathetic showing in the Confederations Cup in Germany in the previous June. Names were bandied about for his replacement, the 1986 World Cup winning coach Carlos Bilardo and other mercenaries were touted but no one expected we would get one of the great minds of the game.  Especially considering he was already employed. The negotiating skills of Lowy knew no bounds.

Guus Hiddink had come to the party in a sure fire showing of professionalism and desire from the new regime running the sport in this country. Now the hope could almost return to fans. We could almost believe we were in with a chance. Immediately Hiddink cancelled a friendly against Colombia some 3 months out from the playoffs and set about getting the Australian players in to camp to see what they could do and to work them hard to expose what weaknesses they had. What he didn’t realise was he pushed these players in to a top gear he didn’t think either he or the players had. They also got the back staff looking in to the best way to get to or from Uruguay in the best way possible and keep the players super fit. This was no happy little drill this time, Australia were dead keen to turn the tables to break the drought, to save the game in Australia with a bright new dawn led by Lowy.

The first leg would be played in Uruguay at the same venue as the 2001 horror show and first ever World Cup Final, The Estadio Centenario.  The first leg being there was vital for Australia as it meant they could play the second leg at home. Australia didn’t exit through the main gate of the airport this time to a chorus of boos, spitting and jostling. They had learned from the mistakes of 2001. Early on a Sunday morning Australian time the teams faced off. The Uruguayans had the Australians line up for the national anthem and then move them again in what was indirect antagonism. Another little snipe to try and unsettle the Socceroos. Fans in the crowd had toy kangaroos with an arrow stuck through them. A mix of Australians with time, money or both to be in Uruguay huddled together amongst the Latin masses.

Australia was far from disgraced in the match. Hiddink had made Mark Viduka captain to install confidence in to the big lump and he was one of the better performers in the game with two close chances to the Aussies. Uruguay did score from a set piece though (Schwarzer could have got there) and they won 1-0. Schwarzer more than made up for the goal with some excellent saves late in the match to keep that scoreline. We’d escaped Uruguay only 1-0 down and that gave the team something to work with back in Sydney. Hiddink knew what he was doing. We had faith.

Both sides flew to Sydney with Australia having a private Qantas jet with all the mod cons thanks to the ground work done by technical director Ron Smith. The Uruguayans however went cattle class and flew out hours after Australia had already fled. The media went in to hype mode back in Australia with ‘Aussie Guus’ under pressure to get the boys over the line. We had a chance. We kept saying this to ourselves Australia-wide. They, the players, the fans and anyone else had to do anything below or over the line to get the wood on Uruguay following the humiliation of 2001. The star player and general bad guy in the Uruguayan side, Alviro Recoba, told SBS when getting off the bus in Sydney that it was their ‘divine right’ to be at the World Cup which seemed to wind us all up even more.

The fans turned up at Homebush on November 15 2005 and had a few beers at the bar next to the Olympic Stadium to quell nerves, have a sing-song, try and avoid the wind and rain and fear or hope that might what come in a next few hours. Numerous ex Socceroos and notables from the game over the years were around. John Kosmina and Brad Maloney argued over whose round it was. David Zdrillic spoke with the Sydney United fans in the corner near the toilets still sulking about their expulsion from the national domestic competition. Also, the old Simpsons ‘U-r-gay’ line was cracked constantly. If was in 2014 it would’ve been a definite #urgay trend on Twitter. There was a tremendous atmosphere before the game for those that had already entered the stadium. A new Qantas jet flew over, kids sang songs, John Travolta rocked up and there was a video montage shown of the late Johnny Warren’s life for more inspiration sung to ‘You’ll never walk alone’. It just felt…right for Australia this time around but then again it had felt right before.

There was a surprise in the starting line up. Harry Kewell had been relegated to the bench with Bresciano in. A ballsy move from Hiddink. Archie Thompson, thrown to the wolves in Montevideo in another surprise starting move, was dropped for Cahill. Hiddink wanted options on the bench. He needed to be ready for every possibility.

Eventually the teams walked out on to the pitch to a wall of noise, some fans leaving it until the last possible moment before the game before entering the ground to savour what would be a historic night and even avoid another possible heartbreak. The Uruguayan national anthem was first and booed to the hilt with the players visibly surprised and somewhat shaken. Uruguay’s chief toe cutter and defender, Diego Lugano, tried to out sing the fans and wouldn’t have a bar of it from these Australian upstarts. The fans were doing their part but there was some complaining in the following days of not being sporting by booing the anthem but there was nothing sporting about this game. Fans had even found out where the opposition was staying and banged drums and made noise all night outside their rooms. Whatever it takes was the mindset to get the victory this night.

Then there was the national anthem for Australia that wasn’t sung as well as November ’97 against Iran but still good enough, a belated cheer kicking in after the booing of the Uruguayan anthem as dark turned to light. The match had similarities to the one in Montevideo. The visiting team settled faster and played better in the first half hour. Uruguay had a particularly good chance to score a precious away goal through Recoba but he missed the target in a position where you’d really expect him to hit it when through on goal. The Socceroos and their fans had to breathe deeply and settle. Every touch of the ball from Recoba was met with what could only be described as delightfully vocal slander by the massive crowd.

With Australia struggling Hiddink sacrificed a defender, Tony Popovic (who had allegedly got in to a wrestle with Lugano in the tunnel before the game), to bring on Kewell. Popovic was lucky to be on the pitch after elbowing Recoba in the face when going for a high ball. Hiddink was playing his cards early after surveying the way Uruguay had shut up shop. He only needed two defenders. Australia had control of the game but weren’t making any penetration with Viduka being clattered by Lugano with a kick or an elbow every time he went for the ball.

Time ticked away but then on 35 minutes there was finally a breakthrough. After some good build up play and fantastic pass by Cahill the ball came in to the area to Kewell who miscued his shot and missed the ball completely. Before the ball could be cleared by a defender the it rolled to Bresciano who rocketed the ball in to the back of the net to send a stadium, country and probably some Aussie theme bars in dotted around the world in to delirium.  1-0 Australia. 1-1 on aggregate.

The goal was almost to the same minute that Uruguay had scored in the first leg. The other similarity to the first match was the home team’s domination of most of the second half. With Vince Grella pulling the strings brilliantly in midfield, Tim Cahill running himself into the ground, and Harry Kewell terrorising the Uruguayans on Australia’s attacking left the Socceroos pushed for a goal that would give them the overall lead. Kewell was giving Uruguay kittens and making them look ridiculous as his double man bun/ponytail hairstyle. He said after the game he was angry for being dropped from the starting line up, his anger was turning the tide for Australia in front of a baying crowd sensing the occasion was there for the taking.

Despite some stirring play, a second goal never came. The best chance fell to Kewell about 10 minutes from full time but Uruguay keeper Fabian Carini saved well as both teams couldn’t carve out a chance to give them a distinct advantage. Extra time it was. Numbness, excitement, intrepidation. Just 3 of the 543 emotions in the stadium. Fans went to the toilet or to do some other unrequired task to get away from the unbearable tension. Away from their seats fans could hear the sound of the apprehension and fear in the crowd as Uruguay attacked and then a huge cheer when they would lose the ball. The stadium itself seemed to be breathing in and out.

Hiddink played his other cards in extra time. Bresciano had done his part and came off for John Aloisi. Hiddink wanted that goal. Aloisi had been maligned at times and was constantly in the shadow of Viduka throughout a majority of his Socceroos career. With 10 minutes to go of extra time the boy from Split/Geelong Josip Skoko came on for an exhausted Brett Emerton. One long term servant for the country coming on for another. Recoba was long gone. He had been subbed after 72 minutes after being shut out of the game by Grella, Culina and 80,000 or so in the stadium.

Extra time also produced no goals despite continued Australian pressure but Uruguay would rue a couple of good chances missed in extra time. Its players had opportunities to score the away goal that would have buried Australia but they failed to take them. Australia had a couple of good breaks and history certainly owed us a few but no goal. The crowd, fervent to the end, found even more passion for the penalty kicks which were to come. And, in another sign that the football gods were finally showing rare kindness to Australia, the Socceroos had the advantage of going first. People could hardly breathe. It all came down to this…again.

First up was Kewell. So long his commitment to the Socceroos had been questioned when at Leeds. One time he had even got on a plane to Australia, flew here and then turned around and went back to the UK. Kewell nailed his penalty to finish off what had been a brilliant game for the number 10. Harry, all is forgiven. First for Uruguay would be the scorer from the first leg in Dario Rodriguez. The left-footer shot to the keeper’s left and Schwarzer saved comfortably, the crowd went off to say the least. Advantage Australia.

Next up was Lucas Neill who had had a brilliant game at the back for Australia nullify anything Uruguay threw at him and part time defender Chipperfield. Neill took one step like he was playing five-a-side to shoot to the keeper’s right. The keeper went the wrong way with the penalty being so good he probably wouldn’t have got to it anyway, 2-0. Well done Lucas. Next for Uruguay was Gustavo Varela who shot in the same spot as Rodriguez but his shot slipped under Schwarzer who had guessed the right way, 2-1 to Australia but unlucky not to be 2-0.

Tony Vidmar was next for Australia. This poor bastard was like Boxer from ‘Animal Farm’ The workhorse had been there for Argentina in ’93 (setting up his brother Aurelio for a goal), Iran in ’97 and had walked off the pitch in Uruguay in tears in ’01 after that 3-0 humiliation. His penalty was the best taken in shoot out, 3-1. Vidmar’s celebration was one of a man who had finally found vindication. Like he had been exonerated for a crime he didn’t commit. Vidmar was Rubin ‘The Hurricane’ Carter for a brief moment. Extra time sub Fabian Estoyanoff was next and took his penalty well for Uruguay, 3-2 Australia.

Viduka was up next. The captain could finally put things right and silence some boo boys who had always seen him as brilliant but lazy. This was the moment for the boy from Sunshine as captain but his shot was unbelievably meek. It went to the left and dribbled wide of the entire goal without any effort required form the Uruguayan keeper. Tension immediately went through the stadium like everyone had been collectively grabbed around the throat or someone had made an offcolour joke that belonged back in the 50s. Was the curse still there? Were those had been around for other campaigns felt that sense of being emotionally drawn and quartered again? Australia were so close, the fans didn’t have the space in their brain to think of awful luck happening again or much else for that matter.

Uruguay had a chance to get back on an even keel in the shootout. Juventus striker Marcelo Zalayeta (who had come on for Recoba) was to take the penalty. Like the first two Zalayeta shot to the keeper’s left but Schwarzer again guessed right and brilliantly saved with a trailing hand to bring the house down and confirm his status as god amongst men. Schwarzer even gave himself a little moment to celebrate. The tide had turned again! Unbelievable scenes but what was the score? Would the next one be enough if scored? Who would take it? Skoko was a dead ball specialist but had only come on as a sub. Everyone was so lost in the moment they had to take a moment to work out the maths. Staff in the stadium tried to remember their defibrillator training from induction day.

The man to take the penalty would be Aloisi. For so long the boy from Adelaide had been second fiddle to the golden boys of the Socceroos playing in top leagues in Europe without much fanfare. With the world watching Alosi ran in and nailed the penalty to the keeper’s left. The keeper guessed right but couldn’t get there due to the fierceness of the shot and Australia had done it. Australia were in the World Cup

We all would have celebrated in our own little ways. A dear friend of mine standing next to me who I would travel with to Germany collapsed on to his knees in the stadium and cried while others pogoed in the air arms aloft like a punk gig. Aloisi decided to do the 100 meter dash/strip with the other players chasing him like it was Sydney 2000 at the same venue all over again. The crowd was going mental, pubs were going mental, fireworks were launched over Homebush and Craig Foster’s YYEEAAHHHHH on the SBS coverage became the stuff of legend that will probably end up in a museum as a multimedia exhibition. Even Andy Harper celebrated like a man who just smoked meth on ABC Radio with Peter Wilkins, the latter being sent to some far flung parts of Oceania to call two-bit Socceroos games over the years. The team did a lap of honour with Australian flags over their shoulders and ‘ Down Under’ put on repeat on the soundsystem at the ground. Uruguay walked off in tears, Aloisi swapping shirts with a team mate and later having to get it back off him when he realised what that shirt meant.

The players were put up on to a dais, introduced one by one like they had won a premiership and then did another lap of honour. 32 years, brilliant stuff. No one wanted to leave. Wide eyed expressions and physical contact in vogue in the crowd. The bar outside the ground that had been full of hope some 3 hours before was now rammed and very raucous. The next day with sore heads many watched the replays on the news, swapped moments remembered and headed down to the Domain where the team was introduced with Hiddink going on about ‘these crazy guys in their flip flops’ referring to the Socceroos lax attitude away from the training track. It didn’t sink in for a lot of us perhaps for a long time. Some were hitting the ground running – booking accommodation already. The Fanatics website went down due to the influx of people looking for tickets (this would cause much angst).

Australia had qualified for the first time in 32 years. Some still don’t believe this is a Cathy Freeman moment, a Phar Lap or a 1948 Invincibles but it was a watershed moment for the sport. The momentum from this, the new FFA regime and new domestic league meant a new dawn for a sport that had constantly been in the mire in Australia for so many years. It finally had momentum. It was a moment that woke the nation up and made them see this Socceroos side represented everyone from all backgrounds and creeds. This side was the first to play Advance Australia Fair at a sporting event, the first to take tens of thousands of fans overseas for a World championship and the first to almost raise the Olympic Stadium to the ground through sheer relief and happiness. Only perhaps winning something like a quarter final or even the cup itself would beat it.

A moment for the ages and one all Australians should always remember with pride.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

Comments

  1. Great night, Dennis and must have been incredible to be there. I watched the shootout the other night on youtube. What struck me was how quickly it happened given the (sorry) sliding doors moment it represented. Aloisi put the ball in but Schwarzer as you say was a god amongst men.

  2. Peter Flynn says:

    Just watched the doco.

    Up there with the very best.

    Outstanding.

  3. Goosebumps stuff Dennis. Like most I remember the who and where I shared that tension filled night with. Your finest writing – loved “the stadium breathing in and out” line.
    Look forward to seeing the TV doco on SBS on Wednesday. Tonight’s ABC Australian Story on Ange was a great story well told. I hadn’t realised what a pariah he became for so long before Brisbane Roar.

  4. Dennis Gedling says:

    Thanks, it was good to go back and look at this again.

    Ange is definitely is a story of redemption. I was one of the people who saw him as failing in his duties as the youth coach and was part of the boys club that had survived Lowy’s cull. To his credit he persisted, created his own style and now look. I’m just trying to think of an AFL equivalent.

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