Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 1-On a Rainy Night in Western Sydney…. (2006)

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 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 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.

We Australians weren’t led by a tactical numpty employed by a morally and financially bankrupt governing body for this play off though. 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. 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. 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 out 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 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. 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 last time. 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.

Uruguayan supporters show an injured kangaroo before the start of the FIFA World Cup Germany 2006 first leg playoff match against Uruguay 12 November 2005 in Montevideo.

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. 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 and that was good enough with something to work with back in Sydney. Hiddink knew what he was doing. We had faith.

Both sides flew to Sydney, Australia had a private Qantas jet with all the mod cons thanks to the ground work done by technical director Ron Smith, while the Uruguayans 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 A-League. Also, the old Simpsons ‘U-r-gay’ line was cracked constantly. If was in 2014 it would’ve been a definite 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 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 savor what would be a historic night. 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 with some complaining in the following days of not being sporting 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.

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 Harry Kewell who had started on the bench. 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 ball rolled to Bresciano who rocketed the ball in to the back of the net to send a stadium, a country and probably some Aussie theme bars in London in to delirium.  1-0. 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 hairstyle. He said after the game he was angry for being dropped for the game, his anger was turning the tide for Australia in front of a baying crowd.

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, interpretation. 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 tension. Away from their seats fans could hear the sound of the apprehension and fear in the crowd and then a huge cheer when the Uruguayans would lose the ball. The stadium itself was breathing in and out it seemed.

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 owes us a few but no goal. The crowd, fervent to the end, found even more passion for the penalty kicks. And, in another sign that the football gods were finally showing rare kindness to Australia, the Socceroos had the advantage of kicking 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 even got on a plane to Australia, flew here and then turned around and went home. Kewell nailed his penalty to finish off what had been a brilliant game for the number 10. 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, luckily 2-1 for Uruguay.

Tony Vidmar was next for Australia. This poor bastard was like Boxer from ‘Animal Farm’ The workhorse had been there for Argentina in 93, Iran and 97 and had walked off the pitch in Uruguay in tears in 2001 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, 3-2.

Mark 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 his moment as captain but his shot was lame, unbelievable lame. It went to the left and wide of the entire goal. Tension immediately went through the stadium like everyone had been collectively grabbed around the throat. Was the curse still there? Were those had been around for other campaigns felt that sense of inevitability again? Australia we so close, the fans didn’t have the space in their brain to think of awful luck happening again.

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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 brilliant 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 was the score? Would the next one be enough if scored? Everyone was so lost in the moment they had to take a moment to work it out. Staff in the stadium tried to remember their defibrillator training from induction day.

The man to take it would be Aloisi. For so long the boy from Adelaide had been second fiddle to the golden boys of the Socceroos. 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. Aloisi decided to do the 100 meter dash/strip with the other players chasing him like it was Sydney 2000 at the same venue 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 to some far flung parts of Oceania to call two-bit Socceroos games over theyears for Aunty. 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. The next day with sore heads many watched the replays on the news the next day, 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 choice Dennis. I got goosebumps reading it and recalling the night. It is definitely in my top 10 Australian sporting moments, right up there with Cadel and Cathy and Kieran.
    I was going through a rough patch in my life, but I watched it with 2 guys (one of whom had been a handy A League player) and we all shared the belief that Australia belonged on the big stage in the World Game. I remember all the dramas, and how in the second half it seemed inevitable. But then Extra Time and penalties seemed like the Footy Gods and fate were tricking us all again like in Melbourne 4 years before.
    But we had done the hard yards and now we belonged. Not interlopers like in 74.
    A turning point for the World Game, and a night that bonded me with some friends, and showed that all of us could triumph over our pasts,
    Thanks again Dennis.
    Sounds to me like you were there in the crowd, and also in Germany. Which of your 100 did you witness in the flesh, and which live on TV?

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Great number 1 Dennis. Was almost as nervous reading you take us through the penalty shootout as I was watching it on TV when it happened. Haven’t seen many better Australian sporting moments. Thanks again for this wonderful series. Should be published in a book.

  3. Yes, yes, yes, Dennis…

    Was there an Australian sports fan who was not glued to the television during that penalty shoot-out?

  4. Gregor Lewis says

    Hear Hear!

    A book …

    Mr. Harms! You’re Captain AND No.1 hereabouts … Please, remind yourself to … Make it so.

    Never read an independent effort more deserving of formal bookification.

    Marvellous Dennis!

    It was as yesterday when I started reading. But the further I read, the deeper your words took me to …

    Live it Again.

    What a Grand Moment that was. You created a ‘today’ I never wanted to end, as Aloooooooiiiiiiissssssiiiiiiiii!
    … Went on forever in my head.

    Live it again mate.
    Live it again.

    grl

  5. Andrew Starkie says

    Great series and choice as number 1. All the best to Socceroos in Brazil.

  6. Tony Vidmar, Boxer love it

    and have thoroughly enjoyed the whole series.

    Thanks

  7. Dennis Gedling says

    Cheers! Was at the Uruguay game right behind the goal where the shootout happened (and the Iran for that matter) and a lot of Germany and South Africa including not just the Socceroos games. Being at Crown Casino this morning with a couple of hundred rabid young Brazilians and a fair smattering of Croatians put me straight back to memories from those times I was lucky enough to be there. It’s going to hopefully be a great next month in what will be the last World Cup that isn’t a bloated corrupt FIFA mess.

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Dennis brilliant you capture the emotion of the night and event brilliantly well played , Sir

  9. Andrew Starkie says

    Dennis, excuse my cynicism. It took only 70 mins for the first dodgy decision in the WC.The penalty was a disgrace. And why was the Croatian goal disallowed ten minutes later? I’ll admit, I’m a conspiracy theorist, and honestly believe the WC is rigged. You don’t have to look to closely at past tournaments to share that view. What do you think?

  10. Dennis Gedling says

    Just like other sports some laws of the game have room to be exploited. The defender put his arms on Neymar initially and he saw an opportunity. Just like the penalty in 2006 against Lucas Neill. I think that disallowed goal was because the keeper was fouled. My memory is a bit sketchy. Big decisions are bigger because of the low scoring. It could be rigged just as much as any other worldwide sport.

  11. Lewis Pounentis says

    Unless the Socceroos can make a World Cup quarter final (or better), nothing will ever top this moment as Australia’s number 1 sporting moment….

    And as a goalkeeper myself, Seeing Mark Schwarzer take those two saves in the shoot-out is a moment engraved in my memory forever

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