Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 65-Jesus Saves! (…Australia’s blushes) (2013)

http://www4.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/Tim+Cahill+Australia+v+Iraq+hiGeizrGL6Ul.jpg

“Don’t worry. We’ll qualify.” That’s what most Socceroos fans were saying to themselves and each other as Australia coughed and spluttered their way through the latter stages of their World Cup Qualification campaign under the divisive Holger Osieck.

In the first phase of qualifying they had cruised past Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Oman with games to spare with the side continuing its good form from the 2011 Asian Cup despite its ‘Dad’s Army’ status. It was in the final group stage that the wheels started to fall off and some of the tried and true players that Osiek had kept faith in had started to get found out.

Two draws and a loss started off the final phase with the loss in Jordan having Australia in jeopardy. Alarm bells were definitely ringing in Iraq when the hosts when 1-0 up that could’ve spelt the end of Australia’s campaign but Cahill and Thompson managed to get Australia the points late in the game. It seemed as though Australia was past the danger and people could start dreaming of beautiful beaches and knife crime but an awful 2-2 draw at home to Oman had them back on the rack again.

People were worried but kept faith in the coach. Some had more questions than answers. Why was Neill still out there? Surely there better strikers than Thompson? Where are the kids? It was Japan in Tokyo next for the struggling Socceroos in the first of three final games in three weeks and through true grit Australia managed to get a draw and then win in Melbourne against a hapless Jordan to have it back in their hands before the final game in Sydney a week later.

Their opponents in the final would be Iraq who would apparently be sending a team of kids according to rumours. We’d be starting Kennedy in his first game for Australia in 18 months said other rumours. All everyone knew is if Australia won they would finish second behind Japan and qualify for Brazil. If they drew then Oman won they would finish third and have to go through another Asian opponent then South American side like the good old days. Same with if they managed to lose against Iraq. Much like ‘the good old days’ Australia was playing in a game that had them and their fans on a knife edge.

A massive crowd packed in to the Olympic Stadium in Sydney and many more packed in to bars and living rooms around the country. Osiek went with the same XI he had started with from the previous two games and Australia almost had their first goal after a couple of minutes when Cahill’s great work with Kruse saw the former have his shot saved by the Iraqi keeper.

Australia poked and prodded trying to find a way through a resolute Iraqi side that was experimenting with youth, parking the bus and doing their job. Cahill again had a chance when at close range he couldn’t swing his body around to tap the ball in after the Iraqi keeper came off his line right on half time but in the first 45 minutes heart rates had increased and hands had been rung.

In the second half more of the same continued as Bresciano pulled the strings in the midfield like he’d done so many times before in the green and gold and his fellow midfielder Brett Holman ran around with the composure of a Labrador chasing a tennis ball. Luke Wilkshire threw his elbows and boots around like he always did. Some would say it was commitment from Luke, others argued it was thuggery. With time ticking away Osiek finally blinked and decided to take off Holman for the wonderkid Tom Rogic to try and unlock the composed Iraqi defence.

Tensions increased. The ease of qualifying four years previously under Pim Verbeek was a forgotten memory and the angst and purely deplorable heartbreak of times like 1993, 1997 and 2001 was infecting the hearts and minds of even the most ardent and positive Socceroo fan. Kruse scored and some celebrated but most had heard the whistle due to an Australian foul and the goal was struck off. Still we waited, we urged, we hoped.

Osiek made another sub that didn’t help allay the fears of fans. The great Cahill, a player who had pulled Australia out of the mire on a number of occasions in this campaign alone was subbed for Kennedy, with Cahill visibly upset about the change. Would this run through the team? Was this where heads dropped? Kennedy hadn’t played for Australia for over 18 months due to injury and other concerns, and it was a massive gamble. To get to a tournament in a country that was symbolised by a 900ft concrete Jesus we would lump a hope with his Australian 7ft doppelganger.

With eight minutes to go it finally happened. Nice one-two work down the right found Australia some space. The ball was then passed in to the onrushing Bresciano who sent a perfectly weighted ball for Kennedy to rise up and head past the hapless Iraqi keeper and send a nation in to raptures. 80,000 went mental in the stadium as Kennedy was mobbed by the Socceroos bench and teammates from on the pitch. People around the country in pubs hugged friends and strangers and spilled each other’s drinks in the madness while hearts sank in Oman and Jordan.

There was still time though and in what some would say irony, Iraq almost equalised with their only shot on target for the match when Salman squared to a teammate for a shot that was saved by Schwarzer. Salman should’ve shot after waltzing forward thanks to the Australian defence daydreaming. With whistles around the stadium and hearts collectively in mouths the Iranian referee blew time and Australia were going to Brazil in dramatic and very Socceroo like circumstances.

Cahill and Osieck embraced with that move now seen as genius in the euphoria of the win. Fans instantly vowed to go to Brazil when they knew deep down they couldn’t go, while subeditors for news websites and papers around the country had their Jesus pun headlines ready to go. The team still had problems though. They were relying on a collective bunch of old men and has beens, with the upcoming youth not quite ready to take on the senior roles. Osieck had made some baffling decisions at times and would come undone later in the 2013 thanks to France and Brazil hammering the Socceroos in friendlies.

We all knew the issues but we didn’t care. Australia was heading to only their fourth world cup and third in a row, which was something we wouldn’t even dream of even 10 years previously with Soccer Australia being a complete basketcase. As we celebrated and Peter Allen’s estate collected more APRA money we would now prepare for Brazil and couldn’t wait. Jesus saves and we who love the world game live for moments such as these.

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.

Comments

  1. Shandy the Wonder Dog (and Labradors everywhere) are very offended by your likening him to Brett Holman. Shandy requires a bag of meatybites and a full apology by Monday or you will be hearing from the brother-in-law’s Doberman.

Leave a Comment

*