One night in November. One bloody magical night in November where nerves were really, really tested, hoodoos were broken and the legend Johnny Warren looking down was finally able to say ‘ I told you so’. Oh what a night!
The date was November 16th, to be exact, and the setting was Telstra Stadium, Sydney. The opponents were Uruguay and the occasion was a sudden death World Cup playoff if you don’t mind. The winner would head on over to the Cup in Deutchland whilst the loser would have four long, drawn out years to think about what might have been. The stakes really didn’t get much higher.
For those poor, long suffering fans of the Australian football team, or the Socceroos as they were known down under, this was something we were all to used to. We hadn’t qualified for the biggest dance in intenational football in over 31 years and had seen Scotland, Argentina, Iran and Uruguay break our hearts at this stage before. With the WC fairytale master Guus Hiddink at the helm and arguably our finest squad assembled featuring Viduka, Kewell, Cahill, Schwarzer, Emerton and a certain J. Aloisi, there was a silent air of positivity milking around the country – but any team that featured the magician Recoba was one not to be taken lightly.
Now learning from failures of bygone years we’d managed to ensure the second leg was played at home, and coming off a narrow 1-0 first leg loss there was an absolute sea of gold ready and willing to spur the boys on to overturn that deficit and get the team where we needed to be; The World Cup.
The scene was set for 90 minutes and then some that would deadset see it all. It was tight. It was tense. But after 27 minutes we were level on aggregate, thanks to the bald Messi Mark Bresciano who bulged the old onion bag after an inspired mis-kick from Kewell. The next 83 minutes would see chances for both teams go begging to win the match with Uruguay missing a sitter that would’ve ended it. “Jeez, maybe it really could be our night” we thought. But before we dreamt too big or got too far ahead of ourselves the whistle was blowing for the end of extra time. We were entering the lottery that was pens, where anything could happen. Penalties are an absolute dog of a way to end a game we reckon, but that’s how it goes and that’s how we’d have to try and win. Bring on the drama.
Kewell stepped up first. Goal. Rodriguez from Uruguay next. Miss. You bloody ripper. Lucas Neill and his pretty boy good looks next. Goal. Get in son. Bloke by the name of Varela steps up next and slots it. Well played. That see’s Tony Vidmar stride on down. That got me very, very nervous. Two defenders taking pens so early. Not sold on this, but what do I know as Tony puts it away. 3-1 Australia. Almost there.
Estoyanoff is the next Uruguayan to march to the spot, and fair play to him with the pressure on he makes no mistake. 3-2 Australia. Next up is the man, the myth, the legend: The Duke of Oz aka Mark Viduka. It was meant to be – until he bloody missed it. He bloody missed it. Dukes you muppet. How could you? We were almost there. Got to stay positive now as we were still in a good spot. Zalayeta steps up, and Mark Schwarzer that absolute weapon, pulls out his version of the hand of god and SAVES it. He’s gone and saved it. What a man. We are one kick away, again.
Almost there as it falls to John Aloisi to seal the deal. Almost can’t watch now. Tension is through the roof. The stadium goes silent as Aloisi steps up and smashes it in. It’s gone in. It’s gone bloody in!
The commentators are losing it. We are through. After 31 long years Australia is back in the cup. Aloisi’s got his shirt off and is running around the stadium as everyone loses it. What a time to be a football fan. We didn’t win the cup but by sheer virtue of been there the underdog of the Australian sporting landscape had finally made everyone take notice of how beautiful our game could be.
November 16th, 2005. This was the night Australia became a football nation. It was one of those nights when you’ll never forget where you were. It’s a date that will forever be etched in both Australian football and sporting folklore as it changed the game for the better and woke the slumbering giant. Australian football was on the map thanks to the Socceroos triumph, and all over the papers and TV where it rightly belonged. The media recognition was well overdue and wonderfully timed as the newly formed Australian league had launched just months before. A sweet connection from the left peg of Aloisi that bulged the net gave the newly formed A-League one hell of a marketing boost that could not be bought. Amongst all this jubilation somewhere up above, smiling, was Socceroos legend Johnny Warren thinking ‘’Jeez, I told you so. About time.”