making plans for the 1998 campaign, the other would still have to face a second placed South American qualifier (probably Colombia). Australia had a tense build up, with much media (insofar as soccer gets media attention) scrutiny and the rumour mill working overtime. Canada on the other hand have been fairly low key and, seemingly, quite content.
I did manage to get to sleep last night, and awoke to what I expected to be a rainy day. Fortunately there was only light cloud cover and the sun was out, perfect weather. After some lunch and a lot of video/pinball games I made my way, along with the Serie A tipping competition administrator (timh at the the same site as mine, E-Mail him to enter) to the Sydney Football Stadium. I was hoping for a capacity crowd but realistically anything over 30 000 would have been good. As it turned out the figure was closer to 25 000. The first thing of note was the new kit for the Australians. The new design, by new sponsors Adidas (Kingroo made the previous uniform), was a fairly reasonable shade of yellow with three green stripes extending from the right shoulder to the left hip of the shorts, interrupted by the team number in the middle of the shirt. The sleeves and neck of the shirt also have green trimming.
Australia Canada 20. Mark Schwarzer 1. Craig Forrest 13. Mehmet Durakovic 2. Frank Yallop 12. Milan Ivanovic 16. Mark Watson 4. Ned Zelic 3. Mike Sweeney 5. Alex Tobin 5. Randy Samuel 19. Tony Vidmar 6. Colin Miller (c) 7. Frank Farina 8. Lyndon Hooper 8. Aurelio Vidmar 4. Nick Dasovic 9. Graham Arnold (c) 14. Domenic Mobilio 10. Jason van Blerk 9. Alex Bunbury 11. Robbie Slater 11. Dale Mitchell
Referee : S. Obata (Japan); Linesmen : T Oono, M Yamaguchi (both Japan) Reserve Referee : Y Moritsu (Japan) Commissioner : Charles Dempsey (New Zealand)
The game kicked off while some stragglers in front of me were trying to figure out where their seats were. Australia took the initiative right from the start and began what would be the first of many raids down the flanks, particularly on the left. The 6'4" Forrest got to handle the ball early, and released the Canadians attack. Australia pulled back effectively and through some committed defence got the ball back. Zelic then passed to the flying Slater who took off down the ground and, though he had Graham Arnold on the outside, threaded the ball through the middle to van Blerk who found himself with only the keeper to beat. By this stage the crowd was getting pretty damn excited. Van Blerk's shot was deflected by Forrest and the ball knocked over the little goalkeepers bag which was resting against the outside of the net, it was *that* close. Craig Forrest sure was showing some good form, no wonder Ipswich Town wanted him back. From the resulting corner Farina got to the ball but was effectively closed down by the Canadian defenders.
The crowd was very happy so far, lots of enthusiastic chanting and Eddie Thomsons house, as the commentator said during the match (I taped the game), was looking like staying with the current owner. It was becoming rapidly clear that Australias midfield had the run of the park, and the heading skills specifically were quite a revelation. Even when Watson managed to intercept a ball, to take an example, Australia got it right back and through Aurelio Vidmar, Farina took the ball near the goalline and crossed the ball inside to Graham Arnold who deflected the ball just past the keeper, and just past the far post. Another chance lost and only 3 minutes into the match.
Soon after Australia again had the ball and were going down the left flank. Aurelio Vidmar played the ball ahead and was in chase when Mark Watson prudently made sure that if he couldn't get to the ball neither would Vidmar. Basically it was a bodycheck and cosidering the defence was looking pretty sleepy at the time one might have expected a yellow card. On the other hand Vidmar seemed to be looking to get some mileage out of the collision, I was prepared to let my opinion of the referees leniency be put down to bias.
With all these oppertunities the Australians were creating, but failing to convert them into goals, I was getting a decidedly nasty feeling. If Canada were to score now it would not only mean Australia needed to score 3 times to win, but also kill all the momentum the Aussies were creating. When Randy Samuel played the ball along the touchline I thought nothing major of it. Mobilio then fed the ball to Bunbury and things began to look, depending on your viewpoint, dicey. Then Bunbury turned and all Tobin could do was hold onto his shirt. Instead of calling the foul the ref played advantage and Dale Mitchell found himself in the penalty box with one badly placed defender and the keeper to beat. Meanwhile, back in the stands I was having heart palpitations. Mitchell, however, did not strike the ball very hard and Schwarzer was able to dive to his left and collect the ball before it did any harm. It was a very good counter by the besieged Canadians, but they had too few such chances.
The referee again excercised his lack of control when Mike Sweeney went into Slater's ankles with studs showing. This is certainly something I would have thought would deserve a caution, yet only a free kick came from the referee and Sweeney even had a few choice words to Slater which was far from helping the situation, I can only imagine Sweeney thought that Slater was trying to milk a card. Surely such a tackle would deserve some sort of reprimand if only for its nature and not the effect.
Hooper and Samuel played well in defence for Canada, often intercepting crucial passes or heading away high balls. However the Canadians were *very* vulnerable on the left flank, one which Watson was responsible for. Also the way in which the Canadians were able to pull back quickly when in defence was directly responsible for the plethora of missed oppertunities for Australia. Australia too was able to defend well with Canada often left without options at the front and forced to turn over posession. Mehmet Durakovic played very well and Ned Zelic was relishing the oppertunity in midfield.
Australia hit the post in about the 16th minute when a clever Aurelio backheeled pass allowed van Blerk passage to the left corner and his cross met the head of the surging Aurelio Vidmar. With a clear shot at the far post Vidmar cannoned the ball into the post and Farina's follow-up was an air shot. By the time Farina had steadied himself to take another shot Forrest was in position to collect the shot. The scoreline could have been 3-1, it remained 0-0.
Australia squandered some more chances when Zelic went for one of his runs, one which Colin Miller was keen enough to strike above the ball to stop only to miss completely, and eventually went to Farina whose shot was superbly saved by the diving Forrest and fell to Aurelio Vidmar who managed only to get the lightest of touches to the ball. Zelic then tried his luck from outside the box after the ball was partially cleared by Yallop but again Forrest was on hand and held the ball.
Domenic Mobilio soon after made a good run down the Socceroo flank but only one other Canadian had managed to get into good position in the box and the cross was cleared. The point being that despite the Socceroos advantage in general play they were still losing, and vulnerable to a concerted counter. Just to emphasise the lack of finishing strength in the Australian line-up Frank Farina missed two chances at goal within a minute though the first was a difficult chance through a crowded area from a tight angle the second shot should have been a simple tap after an inside ball from Aurelio Vidmar with a rushing keeper the only obstacle at goal. Instead the ball ballooned over the cross bar and I, as was the crowd, began to wonder if it might be that kind of ineptitude which was to cost us the tie. By this time I was getting very tense.
Both sides were fighting for possession and the longer the game wore on the more concerned I became, both about Australia's predicament and the Referee's handling of the professional fouls. With about 3-4 minutes left in the game Aurelio Vidmar was brought down in the box. I've seen penalties given for similar offences but to be honest I wasn't as sure as the commentators that it deserved one, though at the time I made some very unkind remarks about the referee. The big problem for Australia was that Farina argued the point with the Japanese official and was booked. This meant, should Australia win, Farina would be out for the next match. Australia's frustration was beginning to show, Farina missed another good oppertunity and after another corner was conceded by Canada there was something of a push and shove argument between Yallop and Aurelio Vidmar. Miller, ever the diplomat, attempted his own brand of diplomacy by yanking Vidmar back by the hair. However the last laugh was on Canada as a quickly taken corner was contested by Vidmar and lobbed to Farina just near the penalty spot and the overhead bicycle kick which he produced to put the ball into the net, left of the stunned keeper sent the crowd ballistic. All the frustration, all the anxiety and doubts were released in one enourmous roar. Craig Forrest who had done so well up to now had been let down by his defenders and threw the ball away in anger. The timing of Australias goal almost exactly coinciding with their goal in the first leg. Farina however needed treatment after the goal for an accidental boot to the head as he fell to the ground.
No sooner had the halftime whistle gone than some nice folks spread out a nice Coke (TM) banner which covered the centre circle. Always good to look after the sponsor, I just wish they hadn't played that banal tune for the latest Coke ad over and over and over. An interesting note to the half time stats was that Australia had a 9-0 advantage on corners.
Again Bob Lenarduzzi made an astute half time change. Carl Valentine was substituted for Domenic Mobilio. However before anything happened for Canada Frank Farina managed to fluff another chance when the 10th corner for Australia went beyond the far post to Tony Vidmar and was threaded back inside onto Farina's head. His header was directed down into the ground and bounced over the top of the cross bar. I was once told that Farina has similar finishing problems when playing for Strasbourg, now I believe it.
Milan Ivanovich was himself lucky to escape any caution for a rather harsh tackle on a Canadian (I think it was Miller), but the resulting free kick into the box was confidently held by Mark Schwarzer who would be getting a lot busier before the night was out. Only moments after another refereeing 'decision' after Slater was brought down from behind by Sweeney, Canada produced a very neat oppertunists goal which did far more damage. Valentine, I'm pretty sure it was him, fed a lovely through ball to Hooper who had got inside Aurelio Vidmar and taking the shot early Hooper rifled the ball back across the face of goal. At full stretch Schwarzer managed to get his hands on it but failed in keeping the ball out as it squeezed inside the far post. Schwarzer later admitted he had been caught in two minds about whether to catch the ball or palm it behind the goal. He opted to catch it and the ball was struck hard enough to get between his hands, IMHO Bosnich would have done better but conjecture wasn't going to help anyone.
Canada were again in the box seat and the little pockets of Canadian support cheered their team. Australia were now looking at having to get two goals to win the tie, and their luck in front of goal so far provided little hope. Australia continued to dominate in the midfield but Canada were playing with renewed vigour and their defence looked good.
Tony Vidmar resorted to an intentional handball and was quite correctly booked when he found he wasn't tall enough to head the ball away. It was beginning to look like Australia were dropping off just as Canada gained some semblance of the ascendancy. Canada were holding the ball for longer and they managed to do more with it. Australia began to pump the long balls which was a complete mystery to me, as they had looked so good with the passing game of the first half.
The Japanese ref really was a joke. I think it was Bunbury who was collected by an Aussie defender right on half way in a potentially dangerous way and not even a free kick was awarded, and as the game progressed the intensity became such that the lack of authority simply encouraged this sort of play. I cannot help but think that as a token of Japans efforts FIFA are looking to appoint a Japanese referee to the World Cup next year, what better way to find out which one than by trying him out in a 'backwater' match.
What is more people like Randy Samuel who had trouble with containing Farina from the beginning the more you get away with the more you exploit the freedom given to you. Much of the game suffered by this limp wristed approach. Farina had been the target of the majority of the fouls on the Aussies. Finally it was Colin Miller who was given a yellow card for a foul on Aurelio Vidmar, it stank of tokenism but it was a start.
Slowly as the minutes ticked away the crowd became quieter, at times I was able to hear what the players were calling out on the pitch. The occasional chant rose and died again quickly and even I was contemplating the possibility of another disappointment for the Socceroos. My hands were shaking and I couldn't believe what my heart was doing. I hate being a soccer fan (nahhh I don't :-) ).
With about 13 minutes to go Aussie stalwart David Mitchell was substituted for Robbie Slater who was suffering from a flare up of a hamstring injury sustained at training the previous night. Slater was given a round of applause for his undying efforts. The change was as successful for Australia as the half time substitution made by Canada. A free kick was quickly taken and Aurelio Vidmar played a long ball which actually came off for Australia and found David Mitchell. Both Samuel and Mitchell contested the ball and it went high in the air and looked to drop about 2 metres inside the box. Craig Forrest started to come for the ball but stopped and retreated when he realised he was not going to make it. The damage was done and the advancing Durakovic had time to stop under the ball as it came down and lobbed it over the stranded Forrest into goal. Pretty damn good response from the crowd too.
Now what happened next is a bit strange. Play had restarted and the ball went out for a throw in. I suspect that David Mitchell and Mike Sweeney clashed heads as they were both bleeding profusely, and one Canadian, though I don't know which one, actually threw a punch at someone on the Australian bench. However I don't think he connected. Out of all this I think it was Sweeney who was booked. Very messy and the papers didn't clear it up for me either. Sorry to be so vague but it was over in an instant. Sweeney was off for treatment and Canada was playing with 10 men and there were only 12 minutes to go. A very brave move.
Andy Paschalides, the main TV commentator, after Farina had been blatantly brought down on the left flank with wide open spaces to goal came up with this gem. "He wouldn't be able to referee a 5th division match in the NSW State League on this performance". It was a yellow card offence at the very least, it happened right in front of me.
Right now I was majorly tense, all it would take was one mistake, one flash of brilliance and Australia would be left stranded with only minutes to go. Tim seemed to be taking all this rather better than me.
David Mitchell, in trying to latch onto a cross into the box, managed to hack down Randy Samuel which was perhaps what he deserved but still a little rough. Then I really had my heart in my mouth as Nick Dasovic fell down in the penalty area trying to chase down a long ball which was headed away by the Australian defence. The referee immediately blew the whistle and pointed towards the square. My life flashed before my eyes before I came to and saw that the referee had infact ordered a goal kick. The emotional roller coaster I was experiencing here was nothing short of life threatening I am really beginning to appreciate championship chess, it's so calm. As Shankly once said c.1973 "Soccer isn't about life and death, it's much more important than that".
Just to toy with my emotions further Craig Forrest again was to the fore as, with only minutes left, first Frank Farina got a shot stopped as he tried to slide the ball under the keeper and the follow up was smashed right into Forrest by Aurelio Vidmar. Both saves were excellent by the Canadian keeper and kept Canada in the World Cup for a little longer. The referee then missed a blatant handball by a Canadian but admittedly he got a little overenthusiastic in trying to get a quick throw in and didn't wait for the ball to go out of play. Durakovic then did something equally silly as he too counted himself out of contention for the next game when he got in the way of a quick Canadian free kick while trying to slow the play down.
Australia 2 - Canada 1 Farina 45 Hooper 55 Durakovic 77
3-3 on aggregate after full time in the second leg. 30 Minutes of extra time 15 minutes from each end.
Canada got the first shot on target through Bunbury, who tried to curl the ball inside the post. The shot looked to be on target but Schwarzer intercepted the ball before it could do any harm. From a through ball by Vidmar Mitchell had nobody inside the box to capitalise on his cross. Bunbury got another chance to score after Canada scrambled for the ball in the Australian penalty area. Bunbury's shot on the turn, however, was far too weak to threaten the goal and was picked up by the Australian keeper.
Ned Zelic, to my amazement, was substituted by Paul Wade who no doubt would be giving his all to reclaim a place in the starting eleven, and Ned began to tire after all his hard work. After a free kick for a foul outside the Aussie penalty box, a potentially disastrous situation was diffused by a confident take from Schwarzer. Both sides were playing committed football and with elimination the prize for the losers there were no backward steps.
There was some suspicion of a handball by Canada in their own box but the replay was less convincing, there mere memory of Israel 4 years ago where a handball *did* happen was frightening. Both teams were tiring and by the time the first period of extra time ended there were several weary legs on the field.
The second period of extra time opened well for Australia when Tony Vidmar almost cruised past Mike Sweeney down the side, came to a one on one with Forrest and lost when his low shot to the far post was stopped. Nick Dasovic was replaced by Grant Needham with about 10 minutes to go.
After the expectation I felt when Tony Vidmar raided down the the right for Australia, I thought perhaps he had shot too soon. When Durakovic was doing the same he went too far and collided with the keeper. However Durakovic's recollection of events may be blurred after one of the most horrific head clashes I have seen. Both he and substitute Needham went up for a high ball near the touchline and both players were down for the count. Needham coming off the worse of the two as he was stretchered from the field with a severe concussion, he went to hospital soon afterwards. Durakovic was able to resume playing after treatment, his fall having been cushioned by Needham who had the misfortune of falling first and having Durakovic land right on top of him. So Canada were down to 10 men for the last few minutes but my hopes of a late goal to give Australia victory and to vindicate my 3-1 prediction did not materialise. The game was to be decided on penalty shootouts.
Mark Schwarzer and Craig Forrest walked together to the goal right in front of me, chatting away. When, as I later found out, Eddie Thomson wanted to know "Who wants to hit one?", Paul Wade was first to say he wanted a go. Raul Blanco meanwhile gave Mark Schwarzer the advice not to dive one way and hope the ball would go the same way but to wait until the last possible moment to commit himself.
Paul Wade was first up and sent Forrest the wrong way. On his return to the centre circle Wade revved up the crowd. Dale Mitchell was first up for Canada and it was almost a carbon copy of the previous shot.
Aurelio Vidmar was next for Australia and Forrest guessed the right way this time and his hands got to the ball and deflected the ball about half the distance that he should have. Aurelio was lucky but very happy. The only reason I was watching all this is that I knew I would hate myself afterwards for a complete lack of courage.
Alex Bunbury was next cab off the rank for Canada and he took a short stop-start approach. Alex shot right of Schwarzer and Mark went the same way and managed to stop the ball with his right hand. Crowd goes mad. I get a stomach cramp.
Alex Tobin was next for Australia and blasted the ball right of Forrest, Craig had guessed the right way but the ball was past him before he could do much about it.
Mike Sweeney was next for Australia and he seemed to have seen the Holland-Denmark Euro '92 game because he was insisting the ball be taken from the spot. Personally I'm not a big fan of these antics, but when push comes to shove I have to say I wanted Australia to win and this was as good a way as any. Needless to say Sweeney missed when he tried to hit the ball straight at Schwarzer. The diving Schwarzer stuck out his right hand as he fell to his left and stopped the ball. "one more" I said to myself, "one more from the next two penalties and Australia win". After the match Schwarzer admitted his actions were designed purely to distract Sweeney.
Farina was up next and wasted no time in shooting the ball into the roof of the net to seal Canada's fate and ensure Australia's passage to the penultimate stage to qualification.
Australia deserved to win, I have no doubts about that. However, despite their great midfield there was no real finisher to take advantage of all the chances they created. Thier defence sometimes looked suspect but generally sound. Canada played well and to their abilities and came very, very close to knocking Australia out. The less said about the referee the better.
In a post-match conference Bob Lenarduzzi said that he was not unhappy about losing in the penalty shootout, but unhappy about losing. I really don't blame him. 14 matches is a long way to come to lose.
Myself I was totally overwhelmed and very, very hoarse. I actually shed a few tears of joy, which rather worries me but there's nothing I can do about it now. On the news that night the ABC newsreader finished the report in which Schwarzer was proclaimed the villain turned hero by saying "Who needs Bosnich?".
Robbie Slater was asked if he would be available for the next stage and he replied "I'll be there, if Thommo picks me I will". Graham Arnold was asked a similar question if his club in Belgium had any problems releasing him for the next game. His reply was refreshing to hear, "Too bad if there is 'cos I'm going".
Australia 2 - Canada 1 Farina 45 Hooper 55 Durakovic 77 Aggregate of 3-3 Australia wins 4-1 on penalties with goals by Wade, A. Vidmar, Tobin and Farina for Australia and Mitchell for Canada. Bunbury and Sweeney missed goals for Canada. Attendance 25982, shoulda been 10K more.