Australia has qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.
And what better songs to reverberate around the ground to sum up the mood of the stadium and the nation after the match than Men At Work’Äôs ’ÄúLand Down Under’Äù and a few INXS classics.
Since 1974, Australia has been trying and trying, but tonight, all their bad luck was flushed down the gurgler as they defeated Uruguay 4-2 in a heart-stopping penalty shoot-out in front of amazing home support at Sydney’Äôs Telstra Stadium.
Australia led 1-0 after extra time, but as it was 1-1 after two legs, penalties were called on to decide who will take their place in Germany next year.
Mark Schwarzer (pictured right) ’Äì the hero of that infamous World Cup qualifying match against Canada in 1993, which was also decided on penalties ’Äì pulled off two fantastic saves to ensure Australia buried the ghosts of 1997 and 2001.
Harry Kewell took the first penalty for Australia at the Green and Gold Army end and converted. A huge roar then went up after Dario Rodriguez ’Äì Uruguay’Äôs hero of the first leg ’Äì saw Schwarzer dive to his left and save his shot.
Man-of-the-match Lucas Neill ’Äì who was terrific in defence ’Äì Uruguay’Äôs Gustavo Varela, Tony Vidmar and Fabian Estoyanoff each scored before Mark Viduka ’Äì the unlikely person to miss ’Äì sent his shot wide of the right post. His Middlesbrough teammate came to the rescue though as he stopped Marcelo Zalayeta’Äôs spot kick.
Spanish-based striker John Aloisi then sealed that once-elusive World Cup place for Australia and the crowd went berserk.
Australia coach Guus Hiddink made two changes to the side which lost to Uruguay as Tim Cahill and Marco Bresciano came in for Harry Kewell and Archie Thompson. But Kewell only had to wait until the 32nd minute to make an appearance when Hiddink took off defender Tony Popovic in a tactical move.
The dividends turned out to be huge as Australia leveled the two-legged tie two minutes later.
Cahill won the ball just outside the penalty box before laying off to Viduka on the left side of the box. The skipper then demonstrated his vast array of foot skills for the partisan crowd of 82,698 when under pressure, he back-flicked the ball to Kewell who stormed into the middle of the box.
His mis-kick went as far as the waiting Bresciano, who held off Guillermo Rodriguez to sweep his left-foot strike into the top left corner of Fabian Carini’Äôs goal.
The first half was littered with a lot of stop-start play as the visitors were happy to slow play down as much as possible. They seemed content to concede fouls in less-dangerous positions and often took their time on throw-ins and corners.
Overall, it was quite a spiteful encounter as both sides sought to gain points in the physical and psychological battles. Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo ended up handing out four yellow cards for Australia and five for the Uruguayans.
Before Bresciano’Äôs strike, Australia was restricted to long range shots. On 14 minutes, defender Tony Vidmar let rip from 25 metres but his shot was palmed away by Carini.
Five minutes later, Viduka ’Äì who made himself busy all over Australia’Äôs final third - cut back to Jason Culina who was running towards the top right corner of the penalty box. However, the Dutch-based player’Äôs promising shot was well saved by Carini.
Brett Emerton blazed his shot over the bar from just outside the box after some hard work by Viduka on the half-hour mark.
Contrary to what most thought, Uruguay actually took the game up to Australia in the opening exchanges and went agonizingly close on occasions to killing off the tie.
Inter Milan’Äôs Alvaro Recoba was again the main protagonist for the visitors. In only the 4th minute, he tested keeper Mark Schwarzer with a long range free kick. But on 13 minutes, it could have been ’Äúhasta la vista’Äù for the Socceroos.
Recoba dispatched a wickedly curling corner into the box and central defender Diego Lugano ’Äì who returned from suspension ’Äì headed narrowly wide of the far post.
Then on 20 minutes, Recoba sliced his shot wide of the left hand post after only having Schwarzer to beat. The ball was pounded forward by Carini, which was then headed over into the direction of Recoba by Richard Morales. Recoba outwitted Vidmar before wasting a precious chance to kill off the tie. He would later regret that gilt-edged chance.
Recoba went one-on-one with Popovic on the centre wing in the 28th minute but knowing he was beaten for pace, Popovic stuck out an elbow and floored the dangerous creator, causing Uruguay coach Jorge Fossati and his bench crew to erupt in anger on the sidelines.
The fouls continued in the second half as both sides had good chances to improve their goal tally after the interval.
A Recoba corner found an unmarked Morales in the box. But his downward header went just over in the 50th minute.
Australia then began to stamp its authority on the match much due to the strength of Viduka up front and the finesse, distribution and pace of Kewell down his favoured left wing role.
On 53 minutes, Cahill swiveled around at the top of the box and sent his left foot shot wide after receiving from Kewell on the wing. Three minutes later, Viduka headed back to Bresciano but he struck his sweet volley a tad too high.
Kewell was thriving on the boisterous Australian support and whipped in a deep pinpoint cross for Cahill. However, the Everton midfielder was called for a foul on Carini when attempting to head the ball on the hour mark.
In a shock substitution which benefited the Aussies, Fossati took off his best player in Recoba for Juventus trump card Marcelo Zalayeta on 73 minutes. ’ÄòEl Chino’Äô wasn’Äôt too pleased with the move and headed straight for the tunnel.
On 78 minutes, Bresciano found some space on the left flank and crossed for Cahill, but his weak header failed to trouble Carini as it rolled wide. Three minutes later, Kewell latched onto a loose ball in the right side of the penalty box and with his weaker right foot, shot towards the near post where Carini parried it away.
Sandwiched in between those Australian efforts, Uruguay skipper Paolo Montero limped off with what looked to be a hamstring injury.
Extra time was required and it was the Uruguayans who had the ascendancy after being dominated for the bulk of the match.
In the 98th minute, the tireless Varela shot wide after a quickly taken free kick and a minute later, Guillermo Rodriguez headed over a corner from dangerous substitute Fabian Estoyanoff.
Scott Chipperfield then slid in to block a Marcelo Sosa shot on 102 minutes after Uruguay mounted a swift counterattack.
A free kick from Kewell on the left wing moments before the extra time break failed to yield anything.
With two of Uruguay’Äôs talisman in Recoba and Montero off, Australia were simply unable to sustain the dominance and momentum they had in normal time.
With Bresciano being replaced by John Aloisi in the 96th minute, Emerton making way for Skoko soon after and Jason Culina moving to right back in a flat back four, Hiddink seemed to be bolting up his midfield as the home side’Äôs creativity levels noticeably fizzled as time wore on.
On 115 minutes, Aloisi laid the ball off to Cahill, who sent in a cross from the left to Viduka in the box. Lugano put in a strong challenge however and the attack was repelled.
Uruguay was happy to mop up the sporadic attacking from the home side in the closing stages and they almost managed to net a winner with three minutes remaining.
Morales was put through on the right side of the box and with Schwarzer beaten, saw his shot roll agonizingly wide of the far post.
It then came down to the heartbreaking scenario of penalties, but there was to be no broken Australian hearts this time round.
Lucas Neill and Vidmar were solid in the three-man defence, as they often restricted the Uruguayan attack to set piece opportunities and long range efforts. Chipperfield did well at left back after Kewell took up his role on the left in the first half.
Cahill and Bresciano worked hard all night and provided Australia with good chances while Parma’Äôs Vince Grella was immaculate in his defensive midfield role. His strength in front of the defence was a huge asset and he often kick-started several attacking plays with his confidence on the ball.
Australia deserved this win and thanks to the huge support, was able to go all the way and get the job done.
As for Hiddink, he’Äôll be staying until the end of the World Cup. He has surprised himself with this achievement after he said back in July when appointed on a part-time basis that it will be a big ask to get Australia to Germany. This man took Korea to the semi finals of the last World Cup so nothing was impossible.
The PSV Eindhoven manager coached his players well when he had them in camp in the Netherlands, he chose players who were in form and playing regularly for their club rather than players based on their names, and he challenged them to work hard on their tactical nous.