Japan 1 - Australia 3

Mark it down in your diaries, June 12 2006, one of the greatest and most proud days in Australian sport, let alone football. There have been many of late, November 16 in Sydney, the A-League grand final in March, its launch weekend in August last year, but this day in Kaiserslautern defies belief, and not only for the football. It just gets better and better.

1-0 down, only seven or so minutes left and the game seemingly lost, with it Australia's hopes of getting out of the group, the Socceroos summoned every last ounce of desire and belief, kept asking questions of a Japanese defence which had until then refused to yield.

Then, crash, bang, wallop, three goals in less than 10 minutes. It defied belief.

There was delirium in the massive Australian contingent at the Fritz-Walter Stadium, mostly disbelief, but also a sense of justice after a controversial goal awarded to Nakamura just before the half hour. For large parts of the match it looked like one of those games where destiny appeared to be with Japan.

Australia had run rings around the Japanese in the opening exchanges without being able to apply the killer blow. Viduka was proving a monster, impossible to deal with for Miyamoto, Tsuboi and Kakazawa, forcing Kawaguchi into a double stop before Bresciano first fired over, then had a tame shot saved.

The Socceroos where bossing the midfield, Grella aggressive and Kewell proving an outlet between the midfield and Viduka. Neill and Chipperfield were dominating the back. Australia were using the wonderful passing game we had seen against Uruguay and Greece, pass and move, flick and turn, hold the ball as teammate makes space off the ball. It was fresh and incisive, indeed new football.

But the old adage is about converting when you dominate and the Socceroos were guilty, and punished.

Japan had hitherto barely threatened. Only naturalised Brazilian Alex Santos, running and terrorising Luke Wilkshire, down Japan's left, looked a regular concern.

But when Nakamura drifted in a tame cross, it was Schwarzer who looked to have been nudged away from the flight path, the ball evading a pack and crossing the line. Tragedy for Australia.

And it seemed to throw the Socceroos. Suddenly their composure was lost, forced to press further forward in search of an crucial equaliser.

It left gaps at the back, and Japan were only to willing to use the pace and good technique of Nakata, Takahara, Nakamura and Santos on the counter-attack, stretching Australia from side to side. The more Australia pressed, the more likely they looked to concede, particularly with Fukunishi doing such an admirable job of stopping the ball getting to Viduka.

With Wilkshire unable to provide an outlet down Australia's right, and Emerton a shadow of the attacking threat he once was, Australia looked short on ideas, particularly down the right.

Plan A - keep the ball on the deck and try and manouvere an opening - was no longer working, so it was time for Plan B, the aerial assault. On came Kennedy and Cahill and suddenly the Socceroos were pumping long balls forward, hoping for some crumbs around the box. Aloisi re-inforced the troops with 10 to go.

It wasn't pretty, but in a game where the result was paramount, nobody cared.

The pre-game talk was that the Socceroos would try and expose a seemingly suspect Japanese defence by getting the ball wide and in, but with Culina and Komano cancelling each other out down Australia's left, and Wilkshire struggling to contain Santos on the other side, let alone provide a viable option on the ball, Australia was losing the battle of the flanks.

But the addition of Kennedy, Cahill and Aloisi changed this, as did the limping off of stopper Tsuboi. Suddenly the Socceroos were asking more and more questions, forcing the Japanese to compete aerially time and again. Would they crack?

They did. When Neill pumped in one of his trademark long throws, an aerial duel saw the crumbs fall to Cahill, who, as against Holland, was in the right place at the right time. Parity.

It got better. Knowing a victory could set up a second round appearance and not having the personnel to defend a draw, the Socceroos pressed again, Aloisi holding the ball up and squaring it to Cahill on the edge of the box. He had time, looked up and measured his placed shot. Pandemonium.

Lucky to survive what looked a legitimate penalty claim at the other end, the Socceroos killed off the game when Aloisi ran at a tiring defence and placed past Kawaguchi, who had earlier denied Viduka and Aloisi with a couple of great stops from free kicks. A team that had controlled most of the game had got its reward.

It was the culmination of one of the most patriotic days in Australia's short history, Kaiserslautern coverted into a mini Australian city as tens of thousands decended on the small city, dotted in Germany's south-east. We outnumbered the Samurai Blue about four to one, it was massive.

In the stands, at the ground, Socceroo fans, new and old, rejoiced, cheering on the boys before and during the game, then going crazy in the final ten minutes and for a long time afterwards. George Negus, Matthew Johns, Kevin Muscat, Kristian Sarkies, Alex Tobin, Paul Trimboli, Andy Harper, parents like Branko Culina, all joined an amazing travelling sea of yellow. Easy on the eye.

But it wasn't all beer and skittles, the performance leaving Hiddink with a bit to work on, particularly the concern down the right, but the one thing that can't be questioned is the cause and committment from the players, management and fans alike.

After 32 years in the wilderness, everyones appreciates the opportunity before them, and everyone appears hell bent on enjoying it. Bring on the Samba kings.

written by Tony Tannous on The Roundball Analyst