Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 9-Italy Ends The Party (2006)

Following an amazing night in Stuttgart (or morning in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, wherever) many Australians woke up with sore heads, no voice and working out how to get time off work or a ticket for the Round of 16 game which would be against the mighty Italians. News on tickets was all over the place. Did those who had tickets for all three of the group games have to line up with Joe Public for tickets to this one? Where would they be on sale? Could they afford it? Eventually tickets went on sale online in Stuttgart the day after and were snapped up by those still continuing the journey at the risk of divorce, unemployment or financial ruin (or all) scrambling their thoughts, money and accommodation together.

The team and its hoarse fans would return to Kaisterslautern and the Fritz Walter Stadium, the venue of their amazing win over Japan where it had all started exactly 2 weeks beforehand and proceeded to find the haunts they had enjoyed themselves in the previous time and continued the party while the press back home continued to pump up the hype machine with Harry Kewell on the front of the normally pro-AFL West Australian complete with crudely photoshopped crown and the headline ‘King Harry’. There was even pictures of our esteemed PM jumping up to celebrate Kewell’s goal to show the sport really had hit the conservative sporting heartland. The Italian press warned of respect and not getting ahead of themselves against Australia because of what had happened against South Korea in 2002 under Hiddink. They knew that under him this side could do anything.

Australian fans before the game congregated again in the market area near the ‘Fan Fest’ in a carbon copy of the pre game festivities before the Japan game after trickling in to the city over the previous two days. The windows in the second story of the Burger King had signs in German, Spanish and English warning people not to jump out of the windows due to an ‘incident’ occurring when the Spanish were in town a few days beforehand. News was the fans were jumping out of the window in the arms of their friends. There was a bit of tiredness now in the supporters. A bit of realisation the end was near and that the reality of normal life was ready to take over again. Some without tickets looked for some, it seemed most of the tickets were with the Italians but they were nice enough to be selling them at a decent price with many of the locals on the side of the Aussies hoping they’d take down on their biggest threats for the title.

Word filtered through amongst the singing of ‘Still call Australia home’ and Slim Dusty and his alcoholic sponsor Duncan that Harry Kewell would miss the match. No one knew why, a troublesome groin again? Hamstring? With Harry it could’ve been anything from a sore ankle to ebola virus. Kewell and the suspended Brett Emerton made way for Bresciano and Wilkshire with Mark Schwarzer back in the side for the humiliated and thankful Zeljko Kalac, a player who had been all around the world in the dark days of the Socceroos with his 7 foot frame squashed in to economy seats for the national cause but would now be remember for his one mistake. Italy’s starting XI looked intimidating to say the least with a front three of Gilardino, Toni and Del Piero with class all the way through to their magnificent keeper Gianluigi Buffon playing in his third World Cup at only the age of 28 and seen as someone up with Dino Zoff who kept and captain for the Azzuri in their victorious 1982 campaign. In the ground both teams received rapturous welcomes when they came out for their warm ups. In the VIP seats Jamie Packer, some Government MPs past and present and Frank Lowy were all spotted. This was the high rollers room of world sport.

Australia started with a more defensive line up as opposed to the attacking mindset of the Japan and Croatia games and held on to possession ensuring their passes were to a target and not coughed up. It didn’t take long for Del Piero get in on the action and make a mockery of this tactic when he managed to get to the byline and bamboozle Culina stepping over the ball and then sending a cracking cross with the same foot to Toni who headed a foot wide with Schwarzer stranded. It wasn’t just the warm southwest Germany sun that was sobering the Aussies up. The midfield soon became something like the Western Front circa 1915 with no one making any ground so the wingers became more prevalent. Chipperfield came to the rescue when his outstretched leg managed to save Gilardino’s goalbound shot after passing from the Italian’s that the Aussies chasing shadows. The Italians continued to press when the ball wasn’t being lobbed around the midfield with Pirlo and Gattuso playing the Master/Blaster or even good cop/bad cop roles. Schwarzer was called in to action on 19 minutes when Gattuso knocked the ball down to Toni who saw his shot saved by the returning Australian hero.

Australia still worked hard throughout the first half despite Italy starting to control the game. They chased, they harried, they never gave the European football royalty an inch. Even Viduka, a player lambasted on a weekly basis for having the work rate of a three toed sloth, tried to close down Buffon when he kicked the ball up field. On half an hour Gattuso finally lashed out like he tended to do and kicked Sterjoski, a yellow card his reward. Then on 32 minutes Australia had what many would see as that one chance against a well organized defence like the ones the Italian possessed. Bresciano took a free kick in to the box that managed to deflect off the arse of Craig Moore and bounced to an unmarked Chipperfield who steamed in to the box with a free hit but could only manage to hit the ball straight at Buffon who had done well to change his angle and take a safe save. Chipperfield knew that was a chance, much like Kewell’s against Brazil in Munich it was a split second shot that they may rue. Italy continued to dominate up until half time with Pirlo running the show. Balls were headed on or passed by Pirlo that Toni could only either head wide or have blocked. Half time and the Australians were still in it. Everyone took a deep breath and a big sip of their Budweiser. Some were too nervous to even do that.

Hiddink had his work to do. Cahill was being completely marked out of the game and no other player could run with the ball like Kewell could, yet Harry was up in the stands on crutches. The Socceroos were holding on to possession as much as they could and keeping the ball away from Pirlo at the same time. Every second he didn’t have it was a second closer to extra time. Then Australia got an extremely lucky break. Only 4 minutes in to the second half when Bresciano received a pass and jetted past Matterazi (he of Zidane headbutt fame). Matterazi put a leg out to stop Bresciano but he was already past and his trailing leg sent Australia’s #23 sprawling. The ref thought that Matterazi was the last defender and Bresciano would’ve been through on goal if he hadn’t been tripped. Red Card from out of nowhere. Australians suddenly found voice. The Italians in the stadium abused the ref and gestured. Was this the turning point? If anyone could defend with 10 men it was Italy but many stereotypes had been vanquished in this World Cup and the last. Australia had every chance but Bresciano couldn’t unlock the Italian defence. Hiddink sat back and held his substitutions. One man who could maybe do that one pass that would lead to glory was Josip Skoko but he hadn’t played a minute of the World Cup so far. The arm wrestle continued. Minutes ticked away.

Australia were now starting to get on top of the Italians trying to cope with being a man down and the shuffling of their team. Chipperfield again got the ball in the penalty area and spun and shot but Buffon was equal to the task and again those in green and gold wondered if that was the chance. Then Cahill was finally had clear air on the 60 minute mark but his shot hit Viduka’s arm. The last time Italy had a man sent off at this stage of the tournament was in 2002 against Hiddink. Australians sensed anything was possible but Italy settled and Gattuso and Pirlo wrestled back the midfield, the latter having a free kick tipped over by Schwarzer. With every attack Australia made it resulted in them having to get back and defend the counter. The minutes ticked towards full time and extra time but Hiddink still sat on his hands. Australians in front of the box or roasting in their seats were imploring for Kennedy or even Aloisi and go for the kill but Guus was calm and collected. We trusted him. We prayed for another golden opportunity. The Roma superstar Totti was on for a poor Del Piero and coughed the ball to Bresciano but he could only shoot weakly and straight at Buffon. The clock still ticked, none of the subs were warming up. With 10 to go Aloisi came on for Sterjovski yet Hiddink kept two of his subs waiting. This was another situation that saw Aloisi coming on to save the day. When you thought about the fact 20 goals in 40 matches were mainly off the bench he was an unsung hero over the dark years for the team and the sport in this country. Cahill headed over when it was probably easier to score as another chance beckoned. Extra time was coming and most were accepting that it was inevitable. We’ll get them in extra time is the catch cry but it’s without much confidence despite the arrogance mixed in with pride and hope after a momentous journey through Germany so far.

Then for the first time in on that hot afternoon Australia’s discipline deserted them just as the referee was about to blow for the end of the 90. Following an audacious attempt a bicycle kick by Aloisi, Italy regained the ball and attacked on the counter. While Viduka and his marker were arguing about something and not keeping their eye on the ball Totti collected the ball and was allowed to jog on for enough time (around 6-8 seconds) to assess the situation and know how to rip Australia open. Totti was able to see that the left wing was the best way to go as Grosso would only have one player to get past who was Bresciano, hardly a hard running full back. Grosso received an inch perfect pass and managed to squeeze past a tumbling Bresciano with a smart switch in direction and cut in to the penalty area. In a split second decision Neill left the player he was marking to make sure Grosso couldn’t get a shot on target and blocked his run, Grosso squeezed past and under the pressure from Neill along with gravity and momentum went to ground. At the time it looked like a dive, maybe the Italian stereotype made us believe that but to the horror of all a penalty was given. The nightmare scenario.

Despite Australia’s protests and booing/abuse from the incensed Australians in the stands Totti placed the ball. Then he had to place it again as the referee thought it wasn’t on the spot correctly. There was massive pressure throughout the stadium and on Totti has he seemed to take an age to gather his thoughts. Totti shot to high and to Schwarzer’s right. The keeper went the right way but the power of shot took it past him and in to the back of the net. Italy were through 1-0 with Totti stabbing one million Australian’s through the heart. There was barely time to kick off again before the referee blew for full time and Australia had been eliminated. The party was over. The Cops had shown up and shut it down. Most Australians in the ground were gutted, they still managed to get back in the centre of the city and drink anyway. A numbness to counteract the numbness of the result. The stereotype of the Italians being divers and the sport in general coming down to sheer acts of bastardry such as this had all Australians around the world in a flap and the media again in overdrive. The abuse and vitriol about the result was like if the game had been played in the Snowy Mountains between the Italian immigrants and locals in the 50s such was the backwards distain mainstream Australia had for Italy in general following the match. Australia had gone down the same road as England in 1998 and Italy in 2002. They had developed the persecution myth.

As tragic as it was Neill as there to trip over. His split second decision to go to ground to stop the shot was perhaps the right one but ultimately it was a penalty and most accepted that as the years went on. He would have to accept that fact (and did) for the rest of his career. Sepp Blatter apologised for the decision on Australian television and said Australia should’ve gone through but retracted this when the Italian FA complained. Once calming down players and fans alike were philosophical. They had expected to be overawed but had taken it up to all three of their group opponents and in parts to Italy but the eventual champions had finally outsmarted Hiddink’s Socceroos. The World Cup was over, the bitterness would be there for many years to come but the sport had to be taken seriously now. Football had finally arrived in Australia following a wonderful effort in Germany. This coach, team, fans, results and hype surrounding these wonderful 15 days in June 2006 will never be forgotten.

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. E.regnans says

    Brilliant recollection, Dennis.

    This has been, and continues to be, a wonderfully crafted and executed series. Congratulations.

    This penalty was high drama, as you say. It’s always seemed to me a disadvantage of a low-scoring sport, that penalties like this have too much influence over the final result. But it all adds to the mystique.

    Great stuff.

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