Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 80 The Arok Aussies Fall Short Again (1989)

Following their loss to Scotland in the crack at getting to Mexico the Socceroos next bid for glory would be the qualifiers for Italia ’90. Australia had done some good in the years in between tournaments with their fantastic efforts in the bicentennial Gold Cup to celebrate 200 years of the first fleet washing up in Sydney.

Australia managed to go down fighting to Brazil (a very young Claudio Taffarel in goal and Romario up front for Brazil) and then after defeating the Saudis shocked world champions Argentina 4-1, a win seen as one of Australia’s great victories before Guus came along, with that memorable screamer from Yankos being one of the great goals. Australia would eventually go down in the final of the cup to Brazil and then not do too well at the Olympics in Seoul.

The Australian side (with the incomperable Frank Arok as coach) was now starting to feature some new talent including Frank Farina, Paul Trimboli, Graham Arnold, Robbie Slater, Gary Van Egmond and Alan Davidson who would end up becoming an NSL and Melbourne Knights legend. Australia wiped the floor with Fiji before only having one ‘B’ international (against Swedish side Malmo) ahead of the next phase of qualifying. Australia and New Zealand were lumped with Israel in a 3-team qualifying group seeing as Israel were still ‘walking the desert’ in the football world as it were. Unbelievably the AFC thought they would be too much trouble politically in their region and UEFA didn’t see them as European. The winner of this group would go on to play a side from South America for a spot in Italy.

The home and away contests kicked off for Australia in emphatic fashion with a 4-1 win over New Zealand in a sparsely populated brand new Sydney Football Stadium. It was off to Israel next for a tough away trip another thunderbolt from Yankos getting Australia a 1-1 draw. Hopes were high with four points from two matches and the away trip to New Zealand was seen as a chance to consolidate their spot in the group. Perhaps Australia had their mind on calling the shots when Israel came to the SFS for the final match with the win in New Zealand seen as a formality.

The Kiwis had other ideas in the match at Mount Smart Stadium (the scene of many an Australian football embarrassment) with Dunford and Wright scoring to beat Australia 2-0. The result was all kinds of win for Israel too and they now only needed to draw against the Socceroos to top the group and get through to the next phase. So in April 1989 a near full SFS saw Australia and Israel battle it out and it was Australia who went on the attack with their three pronged forward set up of Arnold, Eddie Krncevic and Crino who wasted many chances.

With the chances wasted it would be inevitable that Australia would concede and did so just before half time after our glorious captain Yankos and Van Egmond had a mix up and the back and let the striker Ohana take possession of a loose ball and score. In the second half Israel again did a footballing version of the song ‘I hear you knocking but you can’t come in’ to the Australian attacks and defended well to keep the proverbial ball firmly in their court. Trimboli came off the bench and eventually got an equaliser for Australia with some two minutes to go but it seemed too little too late. The Italian referee definitely thought so because before a full 90 minutes had even been played let alone injury time he blew for full time to end the game 1-1 and send Australia out.

Following the baffling final whistle Frank Arok did his usual party trick of storming on to the pitch and confronting the referee in his Australian tracksuit with Crino in support. Despite his gesturing and Serbian/English abuse in the mix the referee managed to get off the pitch without having his head ripped off. This is was a bit of a disaster for the fact that Australia had failed to even get in to the last phase of qualifying (Israel would go on to lose to Colombia only 1-0 on aggregate) and that Arok was held on to after the campaign for Mexico where he made some massive errors.

Arok would eventually leave the position following the elimination and Eddie Thompson would take over. A memorable moment of another Socceroos World Cup failure but (to quote a song from the time) a wind of change was starting to blow through the sport in this country. More players were starting to play in Europe with Krncevic, Slater, Arnold and Farina all making a name for themselves in places like Belgium and the like around this time. At the time of these qualifiers Yankos was already in Greece playing for a short time with PAOK Salonika.

It would be on the biggest stage yet when Australia go for World Cup glory in four years time but that’s another story.


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. Dennis – I love the colour, triumphs and flaws of your pieces about the French, Italians, Irish, Brazilians etc. But these Australian pieces really make me cringe.
    The incompetence and provincialism really shines through.

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