Printer Friendly and PDF

Sydney: November 16, 2005 was one of the greatest nights in Australian football history. We rewind the clock 12 years to re-visit the incredible match as the Socceroos ended 32 years of hurt. 

Wednesday’s clash against Honduras at Stadium Australia in Sydney may elicit a sense of déjà vu for Australian fans, coming almost 12 years to the day since their historic penalty shoot-out triumph over Uruguay that ended an agonising 32-year FIFA World Cup drought.  

November 16, 2005 is a date seared into the memory of football fans in Australia.

Ask any Socceroos supporter where they were on that night and they will be able to regale stories of where they were, what they were doing and who they were with. 

It remains one of the greatest sporting occasions in Australia’s long and proud history, sitting comfortably alongside the country’s win in the 1983 America’s Cup or Cathy Freeman’s gold medal in the 400m at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

To fully appreciate the impact of Australia’s win, and why it holds such a revered place in the country’s sporting history, one must understand and appreciate the wider context of football in Australia.

The Socceroos’ solitary FIFA World Cup appearance came in 1974 in West Germany, and in the ensuing 32 years there was a litany of heartbreak as Australia looked to return to football’s biggest stage.

Losses to Scotland (1985) and Diego Maradona’s Argentina (1993) hurt, but nothing was as painful as Australia’s defeat to the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1997.

With scores locked at 1-1 after the first leg in Tehran, Australia raced to a 2-0 lead inside 50 minutes of the second leg at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and looked headed for the 1998 FIFA World Cup.

But two goals in fi ve minutes for Iran levelled it up at 2-2, and the visitors progressed on away goals.

It’s a match that, 20 years on, still haunts Australian fans.

In 2001 Australia took a lead into the second leg in Montevideo, but were overrun by Uruguay, who booked the last ticket to the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan & Korea Republic.

Come 2005, and with football in Australia enjoying a surge in popularity and mainstream interest with the introduction of the A-League that year – Australia’s first fully professional league – Uruguay once again stood between Australia and the FIFA World Cup. 

This time, the Socceroos had an ace up their sleeve – Guus Hiddink.

The legendary Dutch coach, who guided Korea Republic to the semi-finals in 2002, had taken charge of Australia just four months before the showdown with Uruguay after former coach Frank Farina was shown the door following the FIFA Confederations Cup.

Unlike 2001, however, when Uruguay had the advantage of hosting the second leg in Montevideo, this time around the return leg was to be played in Sydney.

While Australia lost the first leg 1-0 after a first-half goal from Darío Rodríguez, they returned to Sydney – on a specially chartered flight, no less – knowing the tie was still very much alive.

Uruguay’s mercurial midfielder Alvaro Recoba added a bit of pre-match spice when he claimed his nation had a “divine right” to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. 

A capacity crowd of 82,698 turned the stands at Stadium Australia into a sea of green and gold, and before kick-off they were left in shock as Hiddink pulled a selection surprise by opting to leave Australia’s star winger, Harry Kewell, on the bench. 

As the match kicked off, it was Recoba who was the key figure in the early stages, flashing a free-kick just wide in only the fourth minute.

Ten minutes later his corner was headed agonisingly wide of the far post by defender Diego Lugano, before Recoba again shot wide with just Mark Schwarzer to beat in goal.

Lady luck was smiling on Australia. 

In the 27th minute Recoba drew a foul from Tony Popovic, with the defender becoming the first player into referee Luis Medina Cantalejo’s notebook.

Little did everyone realise at that time, but that was to be Recoba’s biggest influence on the match. 

Fearing a repeat from a rampant Recoba, Hiddink acted incisively and showed his tactical nous with an early substitution, bringing on Kewell for Popovic. 

Kewell, with a point to prove, changed the face of the game in one of his finest displays in a Socceroos shirt.

Less than 10 minutes after coming on he combined beautifully with captain Mark Viduka on the edge of the area.

Kewell’s shot scuffed off the side of his boot, but it fell perfectly into the path of Mark Bresciano, who smashed a left-footed shot past Fabián Carini and into the roof of the net.

Stadium Australia erupted with a deafening wall of noise.

Early in the second half, with Australia still leading 1-0 on the night, Uruguay should have made Australia pay for lax defending from a corner, but Richard Morales inexplicably missed from a free header, heading the ball into the ground and over the crossbar.

An audible sigh of relief could be heard around the stadium. 

With the match in the balance, the pendulum was swung Australia’s way in the 73rd minute when Uruguay coach Jorge Fossatti opted to take off Recoba, who to that point had been the visitors’ most dangerous player. 

Australia pushed hard for a second goal – Bresciano fired a shot narrowly over the crossbar, Tim Cahill’s diving header went wide and Kewell saw a right-footed shot well saved by Carini at the near post – but try as they might Australia simply couldn’t find  the back of the net, and with scores locked at 1-1 on aggregate the match headed into extra time. 

John Aloisi was brought on to replace a tiring Bresciano in the first period of extra time, but for his final change Hiddink had what he thought was a master plan up his sleeve. 

With the seconds ticking away and the match looking more and more likely to head to penalties, Hiddink ordered back-up goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac to start warming up, with an eye to changing goalkeepers for the penalty shootout. 

But his plan was foiled when Brett Emerton, regarded as the fittest player in the Australian team, went down with a serious bout of cramp, forcing Hiddink to withdraw the winger and replace him with Josip Skoko.

Fate had intervened and Schwarzer was to remain between the posts as the final whistle blew and the match headed into a nervewracking penalty shootout. 

Kewell, the subject of so much debate before the match when he was left on the bench, was to take Australia’s first penalty and he did so with aplomb, sending Carini the wrong way to get Australia on the board. 

Rodríguez, the hero for Uruguay in the first leg, was handed the responsibility of taking Uruguay’s first penalty.

Despite the 31-year old stuttering in his run up, Schwarzer remained unnerved and unmoved, waiting for the Schalke defender to make the first move. 

Watching the ball off Rodríguez’s boot Schwarzer dived to his left, getting both hands to the ball to deny the defender and send the stadium into delirium. 

Lucas Neill converted his penalty, as too did Gustavo Varela, Tony Vidmar and Fabián Estoyanoff to make it 3-2 to Australia as Viduka stepped up to the spot. 

The veteran striker had been one of Australia’s best players on the night, putting in a mountain of work up front for very little reward by way of chances and shots on goal.

This was his moment to make his mark. He missed. Hearts sank. 

 

With 31 years of heartbreak gnawing away in the pits of their stomach, football couldn’t be this cruel, could it? That was the overriding emotion felt by the millions of Australian fans watching around the country as Marcelo Zalayeta strode forward to take his penalty. 

As fans stood, too nervous to sit, Zalayeta moved forward to take his penalty, opening himself up and placing it to the left of Schwarzer.

There was to be no way through. Schwarzer was the hero; his outstretched right hand stopped the ball in its tracks. 

Having come so close to being substituted in extra time, Schwarzer had written his name into the annals of Australian sporting history with two saves of the highest quality to put Australia on the cusp of their first FIFA World Cup appearance in 32 years. 

Aloisi was the man tasked with taking Australia’s fifth penalty. This was it. Score and Australia were through.

The stadium, sensing the moment, was already buzzing with anticipation even before Aloisi took his spot-kick. This was destiny. This was Australia’s moment.

Aloisi made no mistake, smashing a perfect penalty into the side netting, sprinting off along the sidelines waving his shirt above his head as he ran to celebrate with his teammates and 82,000 delirious Australian fans inside the stadium. 

“At last, at long, long last,” screamed commentator Simon Hill.

Twelve years on, almost to the day, the Socceroos take to the Stadium Australia pitch once more to face Honduras in another Intercontinental Playoff, looking to qualify for their fourth straight FIFA World Cup. 

Another slice of history awaits.

Photos:FFA – Carlos Furtado

randomness