June 6, 1993. This day will probably stand as the last time any major international match was played in Melbourne, or more specifically, at Olympic Stadium, but more of that later.
Let it be known that I did not see see the first 2 minutes of the game. This is because I spent most of the day queueing to play a Virtual Reality game (Dactyl Nightmare if you must know), and thus I was in time only to see replays of the second goal. Something I hadn't really expected.
As most of you might know Australia took a 1-0 lead into this game from their away-leg success. New Zealand were without Fred de Jong and Billy Wright due to suspension, Australia were without injured Frank Farina and regular captain Paul Wade due to illness. Carl Veart and Jason Polak deputised for the absent Australians and Graham Arnold was nominated as captain, he wore the Green and Gold with extra pride. I regret to show my ignorance of the New Zealand replacements. The constant rain, not only on the day but also for the preceeding week was set to interfere with Australias passing game, New Zealand perhaps better suited to the conditions.
The first goal came only a few seconds into the match when an errant pass from Danny Halligan was intercepted by Graham Arnold, who in turn released Carl Veart who beat Clint Gosling (Sydney Olympic keeper) at the near post. If that wasn't enough the Aussies put an end to the Kiwis hopes of playing in the later stages when a surging run by Man-of-the-Match Robbie Slater resulted in a cross which was solidly met by the unmarked Aurelio Vidmar and the ball went over the keeper and nicked the underside of the bar to give Australia a 2-0 lead. Just over 3 minutes had gone by.
With that kind of beginning Australia settled down to ensure that their concentration did not lapse and allow the Kiwis a reprieve. New Zealand showed great commitment and never stopped until the final whistle brought their World Cup '94 campaign to an end. Robbie Slater was, again, Australia's most dangerous player. He was running from end to end all match, with almost no ill-effect even with the heavy conditions. Apparently named "The Red Baron" by the French Slater showed that he has developed into an excellent all-round footballer. His ambitions for Australia are high, he has delayed his honeymoon to allow for this campaign though he is very happy with Lens and is keen to stay. The club seems happy to oblige.
All that said there are definite problems which the Socceroos still face. While the combination at the front is working well, there are serious concerns for the defence about which coach Eddie Thompson admits he needs to do "some hard thinking". Kiwis Mike McGarry and Mike McLennan worried the defenders. Alex Tobin and Dominic Longo really not living up to their reputation. Infact the resurgence of the New Zealander towards the end of the first half was remarkable given their predicament and given more luck they might have put an end to Mark Bosnich's run of clean sheets. To his credit Mark was showing some great confidence and vision. There were two occasions in the game where he looked less impressive. On one occasion he was a little panicky in trying to follow the ball in a goalmouth scramble, and on another he was caught off his line when trying to release a quick counter attack. New Zealand probably should have scored then, the ball going wide instead from Ridenton.
Dutch referee Jacobs Ullenberg called an end to the first half, the crowd probably hoping for more goals after the initial flurry. After the restart Australia seemed to play with renewed vigour, Thompson's concern about New Zealands resurgence probably the cause. Though his words after the match showed just how much improvement was still possible, "Surely you all could see the difference. Mark my words we will get better because the lads have only played two games together". [Make it so Number One :-)]
Ned Zelic had been on the receiving end of some rather uncalled for, not to mention malicious, talk of his performance in the first game. Many scribes expecting to see Zelic emulate his form at the Olympic 2nd leg qualifier against Holland (the game mostly responsible for his current playing conract and fame in Australia). Unfair to say the least. Also less than 100% with a hamstring problem he was sitll able to make a run at the defence and pass the ball to Veart. Veart was quickly closed down and managed a return to Zelic. Composed as you like Zelic stepped past a defender picked his spot and scored his maiden goal for the Socceroos. Particularly sweet for him and his elation showed as a huge grin broke out for the first time in almost two weeks. He ran to Eddie Thompson for a high five and gave Australia the final 3-0 scoreline.
The match continued and in the 60th minute Michael Ridenton was the almost scorer of New Zealands consolation goal when a fierce drive struck the underside of the bar. Unfortunately for the All Whites that's where all forward momentum for the ball ended.
New Zealand did incur two or three yellow cards but these were borne more of clumsiness and frustration rather than any malicious attempt to make the Canadians task easier.
With little more to report of the match I now venture into the peripheral information.
Australia win 4-0 on aggregate.
The New Zealand media are saying the socceroos will be eaten alive by Canada, this seemed at odds with the assessment of the Canadian Trainer who was at the match. He felt that the two games are going to be two ultra-close and didn't think there was much between the sides.
All White coach Ian Marshall, whose contract ends with New Zealands elimination, praised the performance of his spirited team. "We created more chances than we did in Auckland and with an ounce of luck could have got one or two goals.", spoke he who seeks new contract. Many of New Zealands players are unlikely to front up for the 1998 campaign and though Marshall said that the ranks of the young showed much talent it is the first I have heard of this.
For their part Aussie stalwarts (I hope they don't read this) Wade and Arnold were happy to erase the bad memories of four years ago. "I was more worried about these games than the ones against Canada or anyone else...... It's a huge relief.", said Graham Arnold.
Although I suggested to Anthony Waller that a crowd of over 15,000 was at hand it seems the camera lied to me about the level of attendance. Actually it was barely 10,000 who braved the rain. Aussie Rules, the upcoming game vs Milan and the Jeff Fenech fight perhaps factors here but the turnout was inexcusable and Sydney is looking to take over future matches (About bloody time too!).
The nature of the away leg in Canada is perplexing. Though all sources say that July 31 will be the day, there is one saying the game will be in Toronto and another claims the venue is either Edmonton or Vancouver. Any Canadians know? The return leg will be on August 15 in the Sydney Football Stadium (might go looking for an Aussie supporters scarf to go with the shirt). David Mitchell of Swindon Town and Paul Okon of Club Brugge are looking like possible additions to Australias foreign legion. Carl Veart and Paul Wade seem to be the only domestic players who have been deserving of a place.
Australia will play two matches against AC Milan on June 16&17 , AC Milan will play against Orlando Pirates of Johannesburg on June 12 [funny, I thought they were playing in Japan]. There is also talk of a trip to Canada via Europe where they may play Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United.
I trust you found this article of interest.