Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 23-Australia Drag Out The Serbs With Them (2010)

Following their shellacking by Germany and wasteful draw with Ghana, Australia needed not so much a miracle but more a favourable change in luck to qualify for the second round of the World Cup in South Africa. The circumstances were very cut and dried at this stage in 2006 with Australia only needing a draw to get through against Croatia; but this time they would need to beat Croatia’s neighbours Serbia and hope that Germany would either belt Ghana or Ghana would win. A draw wouldn’t do.

The Serbs had had contrasting fortunes in the tournament so far with a penalty the difference in an opening loss to Ghana 1-0 and then doing to same to Germany in a shock result in their second game. This side was also built like a brick shithouse and led by Inter Milan’s Champions League winner Dejan Stankovic, whilst being led at the back by Manchester United’s colossal Nemanja Vidic who was back from a serious knee injury but still at the peak of his powers. The Serbs also had the in form and irrepressible winger Milos Krasic with the peroxide blonde locks of a Targaryen from Game of Thrones and the speed of the Greek god Mercury. The much maligned Dave Carney would be given the job of stopping him.

Pim Verbeek put nothing to chance this time and started Josh Kennedy in what would be the big man’s only ever time starting a World Cup match. He came in for the suspended Harry Kewell. Tim Cahill also returned from suspension in place of Brett Holman, with Michael Beauchamp in to the side to take the place of Craig Moore who was suspended from the last match against Ghana.

Fans made their way up the perilous hills to the high altitude North Eastern city of Nelspruit which was a largely religious city and had a creepy Jonestown like vibe to it. Perhaps it was the thin air. The stadium, though, was designed with zebra striped seating and giraffe lookalike light towers and it was a vast improvement on the hovel at Rustenberg with a heap of Australians, a smattering of Serbs and locals mixed in the with the empty seats for what would be the final match at this venue for the World Cup.

It was a free flowing game to begin with: Krasic getting loose from Carney early and having a shot only after only few minutes that was saved easily by Schwarzer. Krasic again got loose when a great throughball found him but as he rounded the keeper his shot was too early, too high and too wide to the jeers of the Aussies up at that end of the pitch who knew that was a golden opportunity. This chance was followed up by Krasic again going down in the box after a little tug of the shirt from Valeri. A penalty given 9 times out of 10. After 18 minutes Australia finally got into the game and were denied what would be a stonewall penalty more often than not when Cahill was floored with a forearm to the face by Vidic. As predicated before the game the big Serbs would be physical.

Despite that almost penalty, the Serbs continued to push though and Schwarzer was forced to save again halfway through the first half when a Serbian midfielder ran from deep and sent in a stinging shot. It was still 0-0 in the other game and at this stage Australia were well and truly gone from the competition. Serbia continued their domination with Zigic heading over from close ranger after being given the key to the city by the Socceroos but it was still 0-0 and Australia still riding their luck with Carney beginning to keep Krasic quiet until half time.

Following the break and inevitable Mexican waves Serbia continued to look for a goal which, if they scored, would put them back in the box seat in the group. Zigic had all the time in the world to score but skied his shot as word filtered through from Johannesburg that Germany had scored through Ozil, and now Serbia had to score – let alone Australia having to score against the run of play and hoping the floodgates would open against Ghana.

At around the same time news came through about the other game Australia finally had another sniff with Holman’s shot beaten away as Serbia started to get more desperate and started loosening up through ill-discipline. The Australians kept their lines and remained patient. Then Bresicano launched through the midfield and had a shot saved by the Serbian keeper as Australians in their little green and gold corner at the end of the stadium found heart and voice.

The Serbs had stopped, perhaps ruing their luck from all those opportunities in the first half, while Carney was playing the half of his life and wearing Krasic like a glove. Australia were back in to the game as the half dragged on, with Holman on for the more defensive Valeri and the old war horse Chipperfield on for Bresciano. Then on 69 minutes the world turned. Vidic uncharacteristically coughed the ball up and Culina passed it out to Wilkshire overlapping on the right with all the time in the world. The right back stopped, looked and sent in a pinpoint cross to the penalty area.

Two yellow shirts dashed in to the box, timing their runs perfectly, and both towered over Vidic to try and head the ball in for a goal. One of them did get a head to it and past the keeper to unbelievably put Australia ahead! Many Australians at that end of the ground thought it was Chipperfield that had gotten there first but then someone ran to the corner flag and started his usual boxing celebration. Who else could it be but Timmy Cahill? 1-0 Australia.

This sparked the crowd and the Socceroos into life. Serbia looked deflated and were now chasing shadows, even making Chipperfield look like a sprinter as he played a central role with the wily canniness of a typical veteran. As it stood, Australia were still three goals behind Ghana so either they needed to score more against Serbia or rely on the Germans who were seemingly happy to kick back. Australia did the former and five minutes later they were 2-0 up.

The Serbs again lost the ball and Holman, the scorer against Ghana, collected the ball then sprinted forward weaving his way towards the penalty area. With no one around him, and the Aussies in the stadium yelling at him to pass and not shoot, the speedster launched a fantastic shot from 25 yards out that bounced in front of the keeper and in to the back of the net at breakneck speed. Cue wild celebrations from the Aussies in the stadium and Holman as they had now gone from going out of the tournament fighting to being a chance for the second round. Holman was mobbed. The fans mobbed each other. This was the magic of the World Cup.

It was now two goals the difference and a goal for them and Germany would be enough. Did Australia dare to dream? Time dragged on and with 10 minutes to go Australia’s hopes were dwindling as Germany faffed around in the other game. With 5 minutes to go they were all but done thanks to an uncharacteristic mistake by Schwarzer who misjudged the bounce of the ball from a tame shot and spilled the ball in front of the sub Pantelic who scored for Serbia to make it 2-1. Australia seemed doomed to elimination but the fans urged them on to make sure they would go out winners.

Serbia were all over the Aussies now with Garcia on for Wilkshire as Kennedy was put through on goal but has the skills of a new born Giraffe and saw his shot go agonizingly wide. Down the other end Vidic called for a penalty because of a Cahill handball that evens up the call from earlier in the game as the Aussies tried to whistle over the vuzuzelas and hope the ref blew for full time. Serbia only needed a goal. If they drew they were through and Ghana were out. The locals also cheered on Australia in support of Ghana in an electric atmosphere.

After what seemed like an age the ref finally called full time and Australia had remarkably won 2-1, but were out of the tournament on goal difference. The set up against Germany in the first game had obviously been the reason for their elimination but so had the missed chances against Ghana in the second game. The Socceroos did a lap of honour. It would be the last time the bus driver from Wollongong Scott Chipperfield would play for Australia after a stellar career. Australians left happy, it was same record as 2006 (1 win 1 loss 1 draw) but not quite enough to make the final 16 again.

Verbeek would go on to leave Australia and coach a Moroccan youth team with the bad taste of German capitulation still in the mouth of his detractors. Holman had gone from lightweight joke to important player while Timmy was Timmy. A hero to the end. A memorable moment that meant Australia finished on a high after the horrific low to begin the tournament.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Dilettante. Traffic Nerd. Behind the Almanac World Cup 100. Keen Cat, Cardie, Socceroo/Matilda, Glory Bhoy.

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