After a semi-successful series of games against Scotland in March and against Sweden and Japan in Australia the previous month the Socceroos travelled to Chile for a game against the home side who was preparing for their re-entry into the World Cup qualifying precess. Whereas the games against Sweden and Japan were not overwhelmingly successful and not all the best players were available it was nothing compared to the troubles coach Eddie Thomson faced for this match.
The first hurdle was the inevitable unavailability of the top European players most of whom were involved in end of season catch-up games with their clubs and a few others (such as Robbie Slater, Steve Corica and Paul Okon) were injured and could not play in any case. The greater problem came with the timing of this friendly which coincided with the final stages of the Australian league championship. The coaches of the contending teams were already up im arms over losing their young talent for the Olympic playoff against a North/Central American side to qualify Australia for Atlanta which led to Thomson not selecting any players from the top 7 clubs in the national league. The only exception was Joe Spiteri who publically stated that selection would aid his efforts to gain a contract with an English team and hence was released by the Melbourne Knights and caused a stir by not making representing Australia his top priority for playing the game. It might be suggested his comments were taken out of context, or perhaps simply too honest to be palatable.
So it was that Australia lined up with
Australia: Mark Bosnich, George Kulscar, Mehmet Durakovic, Dominic Longo (Paul Trimboli 16m), Kevin Muscat, Harry Kewell, Andrew Bernal, Paul Wade, Joe Spiteri (sent off 33), Danny Tiatto (Walter Ardone 39m (Paul Agostino 66m), Ernie Tapai (Warren Spink 79m). and... Chile: Nelson Tapia, Gabriel Mendoza, Ronald Fuentes, Miguel Ramirez, Javier Margas, Nelson Parraguez (Pablo Galdamez 46m), Luis Musrri (Esteban Valencia 46m), Fabian Estay, Marcelo Vega (Marcelo Salas 63m), Ivan Zamorano (Fabian ?? 85m), Sebastian Rozental (Rodrigo Goldberg 46m).
The crowd was eager to see their hero Ivan 'the terrible' Zamorano back to play for his country and lead them to the World Cup appearance they were (quite rightly) denied them after the attempt to have a match against Brazil (?) declared in their favour by having their goalkeeper inflicting injury upon himself for Italia 90.
Australia, by virtue of their lineup and usual manner of play, played a more defensive style and fell back on a more physical style of play than is normally the case. Chile were coping with the strong tackles early, none of them were unfair or belligerent, but became visibly irritated when their more fluent, quick-passing play did not reap the rewards they expected.
So it was quite a surprise to see Australia take the first shot at goal when 'striker' Joe Spiteri struck from just outside the penalty box but badly miskicked the ball spooning it high and wide. It did not take long for Ivan Zamorano to reply in kind with a difficult shot as he was escorted wide by Socceroo debutant George Kulscar. The shot didn't bother Bosnich in the Australian goal. The balance of shots soon went Chile's way and in heading clear from a cross Dominic Longo fell heavily and dislocated his shoulder. Paul Trimboli came on to replace him some minutes later after the injury was fully assessed. The field infact looked hard and bumpy, rather surprisingly and perhaps had a hand in the injury.
Australia still managed to threaten the lead particularly so when Danny Tiatto got to a a ball out wide before the goalkeeper did. His cross to the only Australian in the box, Ernie Tapai, was headed away by the two Chilean defenders who were not only taller but alert enough to mark him to either side.
The Chileans, Estay for example, seemed smitten by the idea of scoring from as far out as possible which suited Australia just fine. After all the only player who could be fairly sure of a place in the team even if every Australian were available for selection was Mark Bosnich in goal. Australia on the other hand had fewer oppertunities but got ones of higher quality. Sadly it was Joe Spiteri who the most promising chance of the half fell to. With three Chilean defenders strung out across the front of the penalty area a pass from midfield down the left flank found Spiteri who did well enough in receiving the pass and then cutting inside and heading for goal. The young Chilean keeper Tapia came out and spread himself at Spiteri's feet and although the ball bobbled at the crucial moment Spiteri's side-footed shot not only failed to find the net but also failed to cross the goal line as the chasing defenders retrieved the ball.
At this stage I should stress, if you haven't already guessed, that I am no great fan of Spiteri. While his league performances are improving and he seems to have learned to control his temper to become less of a red card liability I am unconvinced he is an appropriate choice for national team selection. His efforts in the Olympic team are not overwhelming cause for other promising talent to remain on the bench and I find it incredible that we have a situation where Spiteri is considered one of the top strikers in the country.
As it was Spiteri was sent off. As Chile were building in midfield both Spiteri and Parraguez went for a 50/50 ball. Parraguez slid in low while Spiteri looked to reach the ball on the bounce and jumped. As he landed the Chilean No 7 had slid under Spiteri who had little else to do than sink his studs into Parraguez. A red card was on the harsh end of justice but not entirely undeserved. The numerical advantage then allowed Chile to play with a little more freedom and while Australia didn't entirely stop threatening the emphasis was more on defence now than before.
Just to make matters worse the speedy Danny Tiatto also injured his shoulder and was replaced before halftime. Little else happened in the half after that.
By way of compensation the substitute Galdames was fouled about 10 metres out from the penalty box early in the second half and the free kick was sent to the left flank, however the referee whistled that he was not ready and orderd a retake. This time the ball was floated into the box where Bosnich (not to mention the defenders) was unable to stop the short Zamorano from heading the ball and looping it into the net. Admittedly it was a good run which allowed him a clear shot at goal but after 52 minutes Chile had the lead they had threatened to take for quite some time.
Minutes later Tapai was disposessed by Vega as the former attempted to play the ball out of defence from a cross. Vega fed the ball to Valencia who then had the space and time to send the ball past Bosnich to score a 2-0 lead for Chile after just over an hour. Vega was replaced soon afterwards for what I can only assume was reward for his efforts.
By this stage the Australians had tired visibly and the previously tight and alert defence had the look of a Mike Tyson punching bag after training. This is to take nothing away from what was a good effort from a side which was clearly suffering from circumstances it could not reasonably asked to overcome. The only chance in the second half which the Australians manufactured fell to Paul Agostino who found himself in space for a fraction but Nelson Tapia was off his line too quickly to allow Agostino a shot at goal.
Chile answered by feeding Salas who ran into an inside left position and then cut the ball back into the middle where an unmarked Zamorano was untroubled in heading past a stranded Bosnich for the final goal of the match. Zamorano was then replaced by the Chilean No 20 shortly before full time to rapturous applause from the crowd and was immediately mobbed by the media who had assembled on the sideline.