Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 21-All Hail The Holy Grail and Jimmy Mackay Who Did Not Fail (1973)


With West Germany hosting the World Cup in 1974 Australia were gearing up for a third crack at making the big one. Joe Vlatis had been given the sack from the Socceroos coaching position with the self promoting army trained Bosnian immigrant Rale Rasic given the job of sorting the team out. Rasic held on to Ron Corry, Manfred Schaefer, Atti Abonyi, Ray Baartz and Adrian Alston among others for the new campaign that meant a tough nucleus was starting to form with a side that was hard to beat and decent. With Johnny Warren losing the captaincy due to injury the affable smoggy Peter Wilson took over the captain’s armband with Rasic having the side play against sides like Iran, Greece, Israel, Mexico, Vietnam and South Korea among others to get up to full speed and hit the qualifiers with everything. We couldn’t mess it up this time could we?

First up was a group stage against Iraq, New Zealand and Indonesia both home and away. In the usual confusing manner that FIFA tended to do things the winner of the group would play the winner of a similar group with the winner of that going to play the winner of some other half arsed qualification system in Asia that had nothing do with the Asian qualification system. Confused much? First up was good ol’ New Zealand in New Zealand which was never a good trip back in the day but Australia were still expected to win easily. It was your usual trip to land of long white cloud with no goals in the first before All White Brian Turner scored after 55 minutes. The Kiwis pumped the ball around against the Aussies who kicked and rushed but somehow got an equaliser with minutes remaining thanks to substitute Ernie Campbell bobbled the ball over the line like it was a WA Social League Div 2 match to steal a point for Australia.

For the next match it would be in Sydney but it would be against Iraq who had a good team at the time and were tipped to qualify. With Warren and Max Tolson dropped Australia turned it around and won 3-1 thanks to goals from Richards and Alston (a double). Iraq’s goal was in injury time and of no consequence. The next match would be in Sydney again but only two days later against Indonesia. The players looked tired but won 2-1, all the goals coming in the first half from both sides with Alston and Campbell again scoring. Job on so far. Sydney was again the venue for Australia in their next match which was the return leg against New Zealand. Future Perth Glory coach Alan Vest scored for New Zealand first before Australia finally got it together and scored through Utjesenovic, Baartz and Buljevic to put the home side firmly in control after 30 minutes. All over yes? No. Tindall just after half time and then an awful own goal from Bobby Hogg gifted the Kiwis a point. This would mean Australia were off top spot? No, Iraq were held by Indonesia.

Games against Iraq and Indonesia would finish off the group but luckily they would be played in Melbourne and Sydney respectively. The first was the biggun against Iraq, a loss would mean disaster but a 0-0 draw was ok as it would mean the final match would be in the Socceroos’ hands. Seeing as the game was a double header with the Iraq V New Zealand match it meant that Australia saw Iraq win and go ahead of them on the table, a win was needed and the pressure was on. Luckily the Australian’s had brought their a-game to the table and like they had defended as required against Iraq then attacked as required against the Indonesians and hammered them 6-0 with doubles from MacKay and Abonyi while Baartz and Richards also scored. Australia were through to the next phase! Now that Iraq were out Australia would play against another side who were flourishing at the time with their love of all things western, Iran.

The play off would be over two legs with the first leg (again) being at the old Sydney Sports Ground. In a friendly before the first leg Iran lost their star striker Ali Parvin to injury which gave the Australians the advantage. This was also the time when Rasic earned his money with his guerilla warfare like tactics. In the practice match before the match against a NSW Under-23 side Rasic had all the players play in different positions knowing that the Iranian coach was in the crowd. Another thing he also did was stick photos of all the Iranian players up in the changeroom and order that every player stare at their opponent whenever they walked past to get to know them. Australia romped home 3-0 in front of a sell out crowd. Alston and Abonyi scored on either side of half time with captain Wilson heading in a rare goal the stick the knife in even more near full time, job on.

The return leg wouldn’t be a problem wouldn’t it? Well, it wouldn’t be it wasn’t played in 45 degree heat and at altitude in front of 80,000 people in the Aryamehr Stadium, a stadium that Australia would come to know well. Within half an hour Australia would be 2-0 down thanks to a double from Ghelickhani, his first a penalty from a handball that never was and the second a cracking 35 yard screamer after Australia had lost possession in the midfield. With the crowd deafening and the heat like something from hell they got their wits about them and dug in thanks to Rasic’s shrewd subs (Max Tolson came on and ruled the midfield). Led brilliantly by a booked Wilson at the back they held firm for a 2-0 loss, they had lost the battle but won the war and were through to yet another phase.

The Iranian coach said afterwards that never expected to play such a well organised and professional team as the Australians and that this was the time where Iranian football would mature, they would qualify for Argentina in 1978. The final phase would be a two legged play off against South Korea with the first leg again in Sydney, this was END GAME. The South Koreans had been put to the sword by Australia before (the 1970 campaign) but they were no easy beats and with a half fit keeper (Fraser) Australia weren’t playing with confidence. Only a half chance shot wide by Alston was what Australia had to offer as Fraser came to the rescue on a number of occasions to deny the quicker and more agile Koreans. 0-0 it finished up with Rasic and the press critical of the side for being half asleep. Rasic swung the axe for the return leg with Warren, Watkiss and Alston all dropped for Schaefer, Rooney and Bujevic. From the start Schaefer was in trouble with the tall Korean striker Kim Jae Han all over the German immigrant. After 15 minutes the Koreans got the goal they deserved thanks to an awful mistake by Fraser and it was 1-0.

The Koreans continued to hammer the Australians in the freezing conditions and a poor clearance from a free kick saw the ball struck in to the back of the net and 2-0 it was, uber failure was imminent. Yet, out of nowhere Australia were back in to the game. After 30 minutes on the break Curran sprinted down the left and crossed in a perfect ball to Buljevic who headed home, Rasic’s decision to cut Warren was justified. For the remainder of the half Australia bossed the midfield with Rooney a standout, 2-1 at half time. In the second half Australia went all out attack from the start to catch the Koreans out and it took only a few minutes to be back on level terms. Ray Richards threw in one of his Rory Delap like balls in to the penalty area where the Koreans collectively shat themselves. The loose ball fell to Ray Baartz who slotted home like he said he would against Korea, 2-2 and all even.

The Koreans now went defensive as Australia hammered them, the star striker Jae Han was taken out by Wilson twice and shrunk like many of the testicles in the freezing conditions. Twice Korea broke but Richards took out the threat and his own knee at the same time and had to be subbed. 2-2 it finished and it meant all even on aggregate and a play off would needed on neutral turf. The neutral turf would be Hong Kong and it would be winner takes all just days after the game in Seoul. Australia remained unchanged but South Korea made three changes including their keeper in a bid to qualify for West Germany, 90 minutes for the Australians to make history. With a downpour before the match it meant that the game would be low on skill and high on grit which suited the Australians fine who dominated the early stages.

The front three of Baartz, Abonyi and Buljevic were fed ball after ball by Mackay and Richards but the Koreans held firm like the goal line was the 39th parallel with Buljevic and Abonyi scraping the bar with efforts. After a barrage for 30 minutes (including Buljevic accidentally getting in the way of a certain Baartz goal) Australia tired and it South Korea held out until half time, 0-0. Early in the second half South Korea almost scored thanks to another horrible backpass by the Australians but that wasn’t as baffling as the decision to bring on Alston for Abonyi by Rasic after 56 minutes, the lanky striker sticking out like dogs balls and not looking like he would adapt to the conditions but Rasic enjoyed a gamble. The game decended in to a scrappy arm wrestle with the Koreans pretending to be shot every time a tackle went near them.

20 minutes from time though it happened. With a free kick won in the middle the kick was put in to the Korean area but headed away. The ball went straight to Rooney who chipped to ball back to the edge of the area to Mackay who took one touch, and sent a 35 yard screamer past the Korean keeper and in to the back of the net, goal…Goal…GOAL…GOAL!!!!! Australia ahead and 20 minutes away from their first ever World Cup. This was also the first time Australia had taken in the lead in all three matches and Mackay was lifted up in to the air by his celebrating teammates. Rooney was now on fire in the midfield and provided two massive chance for the Socceroos to put the result beyond doubt. His throughball to Buljevic was brilliant but the latter poked his shot just inches wide. Then he fed Alston who took one touch and had a brilliant shot from 25 metres out just go over the crossbar with the keeper beaten. Australia held on with South Korea knackered and knowing they could not beat such a tenacious side that had their measure.

The Dutch ref blew his whistle and Australia had qualified for their first ever World Cup. Tears, kissing the turf, group hugs, this was history being made and it was a deserved ticket for the Socceroos. Rasic bolted on to the pitch in his dear little Australian tracksuit and was swamped by his team who lifted him up on their shoulders as they trotted around the pitch. Rasic was beside himself.

“That’s the greatest I’ve seen them play. You can coach, cajole and inspire them but when they’re on the field they’re on their own. Waiting for that final whistle was a sheer hell. But that’s soccer, the margin of error is so small, you never know.”

Australia were in to the World Cup with 15 other of the World’s best. The win over South Korea is one of THE great moments for Australian football and while my generation and others have the 16/11/05 in their hearts always we must never forget the original qualifying heroes that did the impossible on 13/11/73. True pioneers for the modern day superstars that have worn the shirt.

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.


  1. Luke Reynolds says

    Great story that is not as well known as it should be. Thanks Dennis. Really enjoying this series.

  2. Great memories Dennis. I reckon the decider was telecast live back to Australia by the ABC. I have a mental image of grainy black and white pictures of McKay’s screamer from outside the area on the right. Funny how these things get storied away in the recesses of the neurones.
    My other clear memory of that side is Ray Richards long throw ins. They looked like a devastating tactic to a naïve footy kid who had never kicked a round ball. A touch of Tommy’s “kick (throw) it long to Royce and Rex” that was all the rage in the VFL of the time?
    You used to see long throws occasionally in English football on ‘Match of the Day’ back then. Haven’t seen one for years in EPL. I guess the modern game is all about keeping possession.

  3. Dennis Gedling says

    The Irish International Rory Delap was a great long thrower of the ball when at Stoke up until recently. One season there was some amazing stat that a third or half of their goals in that season came from his throw ins in to the box.

    Richards is worth an Almanac article on his own. He was labeled as the player ‘who Pele still raves about’ in 1974, wrote poetry and odes to the Socceroos and was part of that squad that played a tournament in Vietnam along with Warren etc that really galvanized the team.

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