Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 27-The Montevideo Nightmare (2001)

After messing it up against Iran on that horrific night in late 1997 Australia were cast back in to the fires of hell by FIFA and would have to again negotiate their way to the World Cup in Japorea with an easy run through Oceania before a ‘winner takes all’ play-off against the fifth best South American side. Following the emotional vacuum of the Iran loss the Socceroos were in a state of flux until Frank Farina was given the reigns and started putting together a side that was predominately based in some of the bigger leagues in Europe but still a little bit naïve.

The qualifying campaign kicked off with the usual slaying of the Oceania region before a decent run in the Confederations Cup saw Australian hopes lifted for a possible tilt at qualifying. People were starting to believe we had what it took to get there, especially after beating New Zealand easily over two legs to make it to the last phase. Who would we play? It would end up being Uruguay who finished in fifth and had almost caught a slow finishing Brazil to qualify automatically. Job on.

The first leg was to be played in Uruguay but after the Uruguayan FA had a sook to FIFA they changed it around without as much as a whisper from the then-Soccer Australia who were fast approaching the bottom of a very big hole that had been dug since David Hill left. It was the first example of how ‘nice’ it would all be for the Uruguayans with the first leg now set down for the MCG following a friendly against France. There had also been a friendly against Japan but Farina had played a bunch of NSL or lower European based players who would be nowhere near the squad – a pointless exercise.

Both teams rocked up to the G with the Uruguayans looking well rested and fresh after we let them have a nice sleep in their luxury hotels. Some of the Australians had allegedly been on the drink, with rumours of a carton or two being found in a hotel room. A strong team was put out by Farina with Schwarzer, Muscat, Murphy, Moore, Vidmar, Emerton, Okon, Skoko, Lazaridis, Viduka and Kewell in the XI in a predictable 4-4-2 line up. It was almost 1-0 to the visitors after only a few minutes when star playmaker Recoba tried to chip Schwarzer off his line. Luckily the keeper managed to stumble back and collect the ball.

Following the chance by Recoba it was all Australia as the visitors sat back and welcomed the attacks. Moore had a header from a Lazaridis corner tipped over the net by the Uruguayan keeper.  Australia kept possession and passed it around beautifully but their final ball was always dreadful and it was like the Uruguayans knew what we were doing two passes before it happened. Lazaridis was taken off for the Farina-era version of Scott McDonald (Paul Agostino) and Kewell went out to the left for the second half.

Initially it seemed the move was a failure as Uruguay began to dominate, they didn’t have star striker Dario Silva but they sure had Recoba and possession was now in their favour. Kewell was working hard on the left to create space though and late in the game his witchcraft finally bore fruit. His dash down the left and pass found Agostino who bolted forward with the ball and drew a foul in the area, penalty! Who would take it? The Melbourne boy and general toe cutter himself Kevin Muscat of course. Muscat shot straight down the middle with Carini luckily diving to his right, 1-0 and big celebrations. Australia held firm in a tense final 10 minutes before Uruguay had a header from a corner go inches wide, 1-0 at full time and Australia had a small advantage.

The press of course jumped all over the result and virtually had us on our way to Asia. Farina was trying to play it down but even he was coy over the fact we had won at home in a major qualifier. We supporters were full of false bravado and seeing how much flights would cost to Japan and Korea – welcome to the hype machine. What people forgot was that it was a 1-0 lead and they would come at us even if Silva was back and half fit. No problem said some people, we’ll just get an away goal. From where perchance? Anyway, positive thoughts and all that.

A couple of days later the Australian side arrived at Montevideo airport and were taken through the main entrance where they were jostled, yelled at and possibly spat on by the locals.  The Montevideo Welcoming Committee standards had slipped in the past few years it must be said. The accommodation was lousy, the locals knew where they were and kept making noises late at night and all the while we were clinging to this 1-0 lead. Still, we all got up (or in some cases stayed up) until the early hours of the morning hoping we’d be heading to the World Cup and gathered around televisions everywhere.

With exactly the same line up playing in exactly the same formation that hope lasted about quarter of an hour. After an Australian attack broke down a Uruguayan player sent a hopeful long ball up front that ended being perfect for a fit again Silva to run on to. Silva outpaced the lumbering Murphy and slid the shot past Schwarzer.  What 1-0 lead was that? All even with 74 minutes to go against a battle-hardened side at home. Kewell had a chance half way through the match from a free kick but the home side was disciplined and hardly ever gave Australia a chance to get anywhere near the Uruguayan goal.

Shortly before half time Kewell got a rare chance to break down a wing and crossed to Viduka who had his powerful goal bound shot blocked, only a half chance but a rare chance it was for Australia. Half time and 1-0 to the home side, 1-1 on aggregate. In the second half Australia went out and played the contain game again with decent results. Both sides had chances go sailing just wide from way out (Skoko for Australia). On the hour mark Australia then had another throw of the dice when Kewell chested a pass down and volleyed just over but Viduka couldn’t squeeze away from his marker to get a shot away.  The chances were piling up for the away side in the rare moments they could string two or three passes together.

Uruguay decided to swap things around and bring on some subs and this was where end game began. After Recoba was taken out by Murphy a free kick was given and it was a dangerous one. Recoba sent a perfect ball in for the substitute Morales who rose above the Australian defence unmarked and headed in the vital goal, Schwarzer only being able to get a finger to it which sent it in to the roof of the net. Morales ripped off his shirt and almost did a victory lap of the ground, he was booked but he didn’t seem to care.

We all did though, Australia now looked like they were in big trouble. We would take extra time and would love an away goal but this was a hammer blow, they would now have to chase the game. What super substitution did Australia now do? What massive ace did Farina have up his sleeve to shock world football and make it a memorable moment to be talked about in self indulgent blogs like this one?  He took off Muscat and brought on Agostino, woah! Australia did have one more chance though when from a rare corner with 10 minutes to go Murphy got a head to the ball but Carini pushed the ball away.

Then the final blow came. As the Uruguayans were taking off attackers we were bringing them on so we were going to be more loose at the back without that vital away goal. As it was Uruguay got Australia on a sucker punch and Recoba danced his way around the defence on a break, picked out Morales in front of the goal who simply tapped it into the net to settle the matter with players running off the bench to mob their hero.  All over.

Carini got a yellow for time wasting even though Australia would need to score twice for anything to change.  3-0 it was in the end, a very good example of having some guy from the NSL lead our nation against footballing pedigrees. We had been played off the pitch for a majority of the game. We had a few half chances but they had two or three times as many. Yes, there is luck and up until the 89th minute we needed just that one goal but not on this day, it was over.

What makes it worse (apart from seeing Tony Vidmar walk off the pitch in a flood of tears) was the fact that the sport in Australia was quickly heading in to the heart of darkness. The game was a complete joke down under and it would be a few years of unbelievable incompetence and petty arguing t before Lowy would come along with his big broom and get rid of all the white ants looking after their own patch of ground. Not the best of memories but a memory none the less for Australia. Farina would survive the chop due to the state of the governing body and film an LG commercial making fun of the loss which got pretty much any Socceroos fan worth knowing offside. His time would come though and Guus would enter the fray. It was a low time but we’d be back, Uruguay. It could have worse after all this though, we could have been Canadian.

About Dennis Gedling

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


  1. Nice one Dennis, even if it brings back memories of dark days. The low point for me was during Japorea, when Farina had unwisely taken an advertising gig at which he hammed up a flood of tears while apparently watching the tournament on a new TV. I may have spent a fair whack of time yelling at my old TV in response and the Frank Farina who had been a hero as a Socceroos striker was thus lost to me.

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