Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 3-Eight Minutes Worth Waiting 32 Years For (2006)

Following Australia’s win over Uruguay to qualify for their first World Cup in 32 years it was a brave new world for most if not all players, fans and officials. There was the flood of people saying they were ‘definitely going’ and ‘just couldn’t miss the World Cup’ but one by one many dropped off citing mortgages, jobs, kids and any other convenient excuse not to go. The ones remaining booked last minute accommodation which was something like a like a land grab from the old west due to the fact Australia was the last team to qualify so there would be no room at the metaphoric inn so to speak.


In the draw a matter of weeks after the triumph over Uruguay Australia drew Japan, Croatia and then mighty Brazil, a group full of history and apprehension. Throughout 2006 the hype slowly built, the advertising that was anything even remotely green and gold related began to appear in the press and on TV. There was the farewell game against Greece in front of a massive crowd at the MCG then the fantastic draw against Holland in Rotterdam that was watched by people packing bars already chomping at the bit for Germany 2006 on a long wekeend. Even Jim Scale, the super fan that had followed the team around Germany in 1974 with his garish green and gold jacket would be going at the age of 90 thanks to the efforts of Emirates who anonymously paid for flights and accommodation for both him and his grandson.


The squad threw up some surprises. Josh Kennedy was part of that magnificent U-17 Joeys side that had made the World Cup final in 1999 but since then had spent most of his career kicking around the lower divisions of Germany. Hiddink took a gamble on the tall striker thinking that his superior height could be an asset. The young Sydney FC defender Mark Milligan was also a shock call up. On the other side the veteran Tony Vidmar who had been part of the 93, 97, 01 and 05 campaigns would not play in the World Cup after doctors picked up a heart murmur in a routine check up. A tragic end to a career that could ask for no more. Viduka would again captain the side just like he had done against Uruguay. The usuals were there, it was a strong squad full of players who had gone beyond their duty for the team over the years.


The first game would be against Japan, a country that would soon be Asian Football Confederation brothers. The side needed no motivation to beat Hiddink after he and his South Korean side had outshone them as co-hosts in the 2002 tournament. Phillipe Troussier, the smartly dressed French manager who had led Japan in the 2002 tournament as well as being as stable as uranium had long gone to be replaced by the Brazilian great Zico. The striker had finished his career in Japan albeit controversially when he spat on a penalty spot after the referee had given a controversial penalty. It took more than a while for him to be forgiven for that one. The JFA had seen that act as literally spitting on Japanese football.


Still, here was Zico leading the team with a wealth of talent in the midfield including Shinji Ono, Hidetoshi Nakata and Celtic’s free kick specialist Shinsuke Nakamura. The trouble was the side didn’t really have many star strikers, only had a handful of players playing in Europe sparingly and their keeper was seen as a bit of a bomb scare. The average height the side was a foot shorter than the Aussies too. The fact the some suit within the JFA also claimed Australians were fond of dirty fouls and liked to hack meant that would be a little apprehensive going in to this game.


Australians slowly trickled into the South Western German city of Kaiserslautern from all corners of the globe. There were the hardcore fans who had watched Australia disappoint them in so many ways in so many different countries cynical towards those now on the bandwagon there in their thousands. There were the average fans who had enough money and the job/partner negotiating skills of a footballing Henry Kissinger to be able to heads to Germany and there were the backpackers dropping in on their European jaunt mainly dressed in Wallabies gear and anything else remotely Australian ready for another alcohol-fuelled laugh much like a Gallipoli tour, the running of the bulls or a session at ‘The Church’ in Kilburn on a Sunday morning.


On the morning of the match Australians were scattered all around the city but eventually migrated to a town square in the middle of the city where ‘Aussie Pub Songs Vol.2’ featured on high rotation and the Australians got stuck in to the local beer and cooked up an atmosphere 32 years in the making in. The locals were bemused but ready to party none the less. This was a time to make friends for the Germans and Aussies alike. Many tried to soak in the atmosphere and the fact they were there to see Australia in a World Cup. Many couldn’t get their head around it. The new Socceroos shirts featured, as did the ones proclaiming the late Johnny Warren ‘told us so’ along with the Wallabies and AFL shirts that raised the ire of the self proclaimed Socceroos super fans. The throngs of fans headed up the hill to the Fritz Walter Stadium that looked over the city like a haunted house. This was it.


The line up for Australia’s first World Cup game in 32 years would have some surprises. Hiddink had to leave one of either Cahill, Bresciano or Kewell on the bench or the side would be too top heavy with too much pressure on Grella and the defence. He opted to leave Cahill on the bench and start Kewell who had been touch and go to make the squad after injuring himself (again) in the FA Cup Final for Liverpool. The biggest surprise was the starting role given to the 25-year-old Luke Wilkshire, a utility type player that had mainly played in the lower divisions of England but was just right for Guus being flexible to play in different positions and was super fit so ready for the hot afternoon sun. The side needed flexibility and guts more than a starting XI with big names wedged in to please everybody. Emerton would play a more central role. It was like Hiddink was experimenting in what was the biggest game of Australian football since 1974.


Members of the Australian team pose at t


Following the national anthems the game finally kicked off with the early start meaning many people in Australia would be glued to their screens in a game Australia had to win to fancy themselves getting out of the group. The trouble was all this pressure may have been too much for the Socceroos as from the kick off they looked sloppy and lethargic after such a hyped build up. The atmosphere from the town square before the game had been lost with the Japanese and their regimented ‘Nippon *clap* *clap* *clap*’ overpowering anything the Australians were singing be it ‘Sing when you’re whaling’, ‘Waltzing Matilda’ or ‘Australia la da dada dada daaa’.


After a lackluster first 25 minutes in which Viduka was the only player really giving Japan problems that forced the keeper in to a double save, the ‘Blue Samurai’ received a free kick some 35 yards out from goal. Nakamura floated the ball in hopefully. Schwarzer came off his line went to collect the ball but ran in to striker Yanagisawa and then another Japanese player falling to the ground. The ball effortlessly bounced past the mangled mass of players and in to the empty net. Surely Schwarzer was fouled? No whistle. 1-0 Japan to the chagrin of the Australians and especially the keeper. Supporters waited for the whistle and then turned to each other with a ‘did you just see that?’ air of confusion. To a chorus of boos the game restarted.


As the half continued Hiddink’s plan of starting Wilkshire seemed to be unraveling on the world stage. Both he and Emerton were supposed to be bringing the ball down the right but both kept coughing up the ball with Emerton going back to his bad habit of not trying to beat his man and passing defensively. Australia could cover a couple of players having a nightmare but not an entire team. Kewell had a shot fizz over the crossbar just after Japan’s goal but there was nothing of note for the rest of the first half save for Schwarzer spilling the ball to Takahara but Lucas Neill’s quick wits to put a tackle in before the Japanese striker could shoot kept it 1-0 at half time. This was not the way it was supposed to be going.


In the second half Australia still couldn’t find any cohesion against a Japanese side happy to pass the ball around the not try and land the killer blow. With only 8 minutes gone in the second half the ineffectual Bresciano was subbed for Cahill that brought the Australian fans to life but the Socceroos failed to register a shot on target. On 61 minutes Hiddink made a major change taking off Craig Moore and bringing on Josh Kennedy, taking another risk on a player the less than average fan would never have heard of.


With Kennedy on the pitch Australia threw their weight around more and got more third division Victorian league rather than joga bonito as they didn’t quite go so much route one but more a side street or a route three or so. Kennedy was fouled on the edge of the box and Viduka’s free kick was saved and put out for a corner. The stress on the Australians in the crowd and at home was extreme. Was this it? Had Australia come in to this tournament with all the momentum and a chance of a lifetime and been shown up as wannabes? As chancers? It seemed over before it began to some, others still believed in ‘Lucky Guus’. The second half seemed to go in a time lapse.


With 15 to go Aloisi was subbed on for Wilkshire to do a savior job again as Australia threw everything at the Japanese who hardly threatened since their goal. It was now down to 8 minutes of regular time left. Australians wanted anything, a goal, a point would do, ANYTHING! It couldn’t start like this, so many had waited so long for this match and it surely couldn’t be a damp squib. With 8 minutes to go Australia won a thrown in deep in Japan’s half.


Socceroo Tim Cahill (middle) scores Australia's first goal against Japan in Kaiserslautern during the 2006 World Cup.


Neill took a long throw in to the penalty area that the Japanese keeper came off his line to collect and split on the ground. In the desperation to get a foot to ball Cahill managed to get a toe in to poach before anyone could clear for the Japanese and the ball trundled in to the net to send millions of Australians in to a collective fit of euphoria mixed with relief and elation. Cahill had scored and it was 1-1. This was the first goal Australia ever scored in a World Cup and scored by someone that would’ve still been playing in the OFC if not for the persistence of the much maligned Frank Farina. Cahill did his trademark corner flag boxing routine in introspective fashion with a game still to be won and then immediately made for the middle and the restart.


Australians were now at least relieved. There was a goal albeit perhaps scarcely deserved but they would hopefully at least now get a point and hope to do better against the defending champions and plucky Europeans. Would this be enough? Australians baking in the afternoon sun and eating pickled Germany delicacies urged Australia on. With minutes left, the Japanese rued their luck. Japan got the ball to their by-line past the flat footed Australian defence and tried to square or shoot but Cahill managed to get back and put in a desperate tackle that was fair to say a penalty any day of the week. Australia cleared and those in the stadium either didn’t see the foul or were still caught up in the euphoria of the equaliser.


Then Ono sent through a defence-splitting pass to Fukunishi who sidestepped Neill and made space for a shot that went just wide. Japan was trying to make up for lost time. Australia still believed as Kennedy used his size at both ends of the pitch heading away Japanese corners and trying to hold up the ball up front. With one minute of normal time left Australia had the ball steaming forward. Aloisi collected the ball on the edge of the penalty area and squared to Cahill who stopped, propped and after seeing he had a nanosecond to get a shot away sent a shot past the keeper which hit the inside of the upright, deflected to the other upright and then in for a goal. 2-1. Pandemonium and the inability to think this is happening being strange bedfellows as Cahill didn’t have to time to his trademark goal celebration before being swamped by teammates.




That goal knocked the stuffing out of the Japanese. How could they let this happen? The military like training Hiddink had done to get this side at the peak and physical and mental strength along with an inspired sub at seemingly won the day in 6 short minutes. With the clock ticking down and the Australian end of the ground a mass of green, gold and jubilation. The Japanese showed all the composure of a spider trying to escape a bathtub as the Socceroos pushed for a third. With the ref ready to blow for full time Aloisi ran at the wilting Japanese defence and side stepped one, forced his way past another and rather than pass to Viduka who was unmarked (and probably offside) Aloisi calmly slotted the ball home with his left foot to have 3-1 and send Australia in to an orgy of celebration.


What had Japan done to deserve such luck? What had the Socceroos done to deserve it? Australia was off the mark in a historic win 3-1 in 8 minutes that would be remember forever. After so many years in the wilderness this was what fans had missed and it was a welcome introduction to the biggest tournament there is. Many journeyed back down the hill to celebrate and hit the bars like a plague of locusts. They would also pinch themselves not only for the win but the fact they were there to witness it…in a world cup no less. Hiddink was once said to have a horseshoe as big as a house according to a former player he’d coached. Luck did play a part but he did have this team drilled for any eventuality, chasing a game, defending a lead or anything in between. Australia now had Brazil next with a win in the bag and the first hurdle jumped in extraordinary circumstances.


In Germany and in the new era of Australian Football in general, we’d only just begun.



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. Rick Kane says

    Another great report Dennis. Man you’ve done a great job on these. This report (and game) in particular highlights exactly what is so incredible about The World Game. Aussie Rules is great but it cannot compare for sheer nerve racking tension and heart attack after heart attack that football produces. I always wonder if we are feeling so wracked with every doubt under the sun at home (or if you are lucky enough to be in Germany and now Brazil), how the hell are they feeling out on the pitch.


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