Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 51-The Original Socceroos Campaign (1965)

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When we think of Australia qualifying through Asia we’re normally split in to two groups. There’s the glass half full who think of the undefeated run in the final qualifying group in 2010 and then there’s the glass half empty that remember chances lost in Asia like Iran 1997 and the blunder of 1981.

Australia’s first ever crack at the World Cup came in 1965 and back then it was through Asia. Australia actually hadn’t been part of the FIFA set up for seven years before this bid but the timing had been good with a heap of small footballing nations pulling out due to a spat with FIFA over confederation positions or the fact that they didn’t have the financial clout to mount a serious bid to get to England ’66.

With all the withdrawals it meant that Australia would play communist country North Korea in a two legged play off on the neutral turf of Cambodia for a spot in the World Cup. It seemed simple. The reason why the game was to be played in the soon to be war torn country was because Cambodia was the only country in the world to have diplomatic ties with both Australia and the Koreans.

The national side was coached by Yugoslav immigrant, bean pole, card cheat and one time Partisan Belgrade striker Tiko Jelisavcic who had been coaching Hakoah Eastern Suburbs in Sydney. The team trained in the humidity of far North Queensland to try and get used to the weather of Cambodia because they “heard it was hot there” but only one practice match was organised in between all the training, a fatal flaw and a prime sign of naivety.

Another ‘winner’ moment for the Australians was the fact they ate the local produce in Bangkok and then Cambodia which meant a lot of the squad had a bad dose of the squirts in the lead up to the game. While Australia was having amateur shenanigans the North Koreans were preparing with all the strict aura of an army platoon because that’s what they were. The team had come together in the army and had trained and lived together under strict communist rule for the best part of two years which meant they were ready for the Australians. They had trained smart, eaten something that wouldn’t make them sick and on the pitch in the first match gave Australia a bath in front of a crowd of almost 60,000.

The first ever XI for Australia in a world cup qualifier was John Roberts, Nigel Shepherd, Stanley Ackerley, Patrick Hughes, Bill Rice, Les Scheinflug(C), Geoffrey Sleight, John Anderson, Archibald Blue, John Watkiss and David Todd. The team did well to keep North Korea on the backfoot for the first 45 minutes and must have felt that they were in with a chance with the score only being 1-0 at half time (Pak Do Ik had scored after 15 minutes). In the second the fitness of the North Koreans shone through and Australia were put the sword. By the time Scheinflug had converted his penalty to be first the Australian goal scorer in a world cup qualifier the North Koreans were up 4-0 and well on their way.

The score ended up 6-1 and Australia decided to go defensive in the second game with a heap of changes made to the side…they still lost but only 3-1, Scheinflug again scoring. So all over red rover for Australia after only about 60 minutes of football in their first bid at the world cup but a memorable and historic moment none the less even if it was a bit of a disaster. Johnny Warren remarked in later years that it was Australian sport’s ‘Gallipoli moment’. Australia would go on to play a heap of friendlies around South East Asia and do quite well due to the fact they had game time under their belts and would have another crack in 4 years.

Jelisavscic wouldn’t be asked back as Australian coach again following the tour. Rumours of player unrest with the coach and the fact he had allegedly been caught cheating at cards by the players a few times during the tour saw to that. Bill Rice, probably the most professional player for the team had also collapsed near the end of the last game against North Korea with Jelisavsic saying ‘let the bastard walk’ when he was helped up by teammates.

North Korea of course went on to have a brilliant run at the 1966 World Cup but that’s a moment for another time.

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.

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