A few days ago I posed Can they score 2 at home to go through? when assessing the chances of Australia to progress to the final 32 of the world cup. As it turns out the answer was "no" but thankfully it was enough to score one and take it to penalties.
Now, several days later the mind is still a blur from the spectacle, the excitement and the sense of incredulity that so many previous failed campaigns tries to fight. It's perhaps as close as I will ever come to mentioning Pavlov's dog syndrome in a match report. I am hoping to write something clear and concise in the best tradition of archive-worthy material but I fear I shall fail, there is still far too great a readiness to shed a tear at the shortest snippets of footage that the TV has on an apparent continuous loop.
As is the case with these ties the first match never really ended, it was just a very long half-time break. On that point, and after all the discussion, I was surprised that the Uruguayans arrived *before* the Australians despite having to travel on a commercial flight and change planes. Though I would still have preferred the Australian approach of massage tables and a direct charter flight.
The chat from the Uruguayan camp was also interesting. Their coach said Australia lacked the class of player that could win the tie for them and Alvaro Recoba, obviously not really understanding the Australian psyche or being desperate, suggested Uruguay had a "divine right" to attend the world cup due to their history.
ALVARO, IS THAT YOU?
Oh yes, I am Alvaro Recoba.
JUST KIDDING, OF COURSE I ALREADY KNEW THAT
Who is this please?
I SPEAK IN CAPS, CLEARLY I AM VERY IMPORTANT. LISTEN ALVARO, JUST NOW I'VE HAD A LONG CHAT TO THIS JOHN WARREN FELLOW, JESUS THAT MAN CAN TALK. SO ANYWAY IT TURNS OUT THIS THING THE FELLOW DOWNSTAIRS HAD ON THE OUTCOME OF ALL THE AUSTRALIAN GAMES WAS REMOVED BY A YOUNG LAD CALLED JOHN SAFRAN...
...SAFRAN... AND DON'T INTERRUPT, I DON'T LIKE THAT.
ARE YOU TRYING TO BE FUNNY? 'COS IF YOU ARE, SO HELP ME ME, I'LL GET NASTY... ANYWAY YOU REMEMBER WE HAD THAT CHAT A WHILE AGO WHERE WE AGREED ABOUT LETTING URUGUAY PLAY IN THE WOLRD CUPS?
Oh yes, we got drunk and you tried to pick up in a nightclub.
ERRR NO... WELL ANYWAY I JUST WANTED TO LET YOU KNOW THAT DIVINE RIGHT THING, IT'S REPEALED.
Oh no.. what will we do?
JUST WIN IT THE NORMAL WAY?
You mean like the time-wasting and the persistent fouling?
SURE WHY NOT, AND I'M TAKING YOU OFF BEFORE FULLTIME FOR THAT NIGHTCLUB REMARK
I'm not sure if that's what really happened but I bet you can't prove it didn't *wink*.
I'm probably being silly because I'm having a hard time reconciling the events of that night with reality. Everything was just as normal, but much, much bigger. I have had trouble explaining the meaning of the game to people, not just to the recent fans but some football fans new to the Australian plight. I will botch this explanation.
First and foremost the sporting public (and press which serves as some sort of reflection) is either ambivalent or anti football. The reasons are varied, there is some sense that the game is foreign to the Australian culture. What defines Australian culture is a separate question, I can only explain so much here. There is also a widespread belief that the Australian version of the game is inferior to other leagues and national teams. That one is harder to argue, but hardly worthy of a sweeping dismissal of the game in this country. Of course the relative merit of being World Champions in cricket, rugby union, rugby league and being competitive in a more popular sport is a useful argument. Funnier still the common chuckles at the United Statesians for boasting about world champion Baseball and Gridiron teams.
Of course there is the long series of World Cup qualification disappointments as Australia by a combination of unfortunate (dare I say poor) play, inept and unsupportive leadership off the field and the political machinations of FIFA have failed to qualify since 1973. Doing so against South Korea. Even then a 3rd game was required as the first two failed to find a winner. I'm reminded of the first time Australia attempted to get to the World Cup. In 1966 and then largely because England, the mother country, was host. Australia was demolished by North Korea. A fate shared by Italy not long after.
Since then Australia has played off against Scotland, Israel, Argentina, Canada, Iran, Uruguay and Taiwan as well as the fellow Oceanic countries in an attempt to make the World Cup finals and with each bit of heartbreak the emotional burden weighs ever more heavily and you end up not wanting to invest any more emotional capital because it ends up in tears. The bad kind.
Once inside the stadium, packed with over 82,000 fans, the bulk heeding the call to wear gold (well, yellow) colours and all cheering madly long before any of the combatants made it onto the pitch. The term "Gladiator" might be appropriate, the crowd wasn't just hoping for blood, it was expecting it. Not the real kind mind you... more the kind you sweat.
All the promises I made to myself to remain within myself, not to get too carried away and to not take a loss to hard were gone as I found my way to my seat. Deep down I knew those promises to myself wouldn't be kept, but still I was surprised by how swiftly they evaporated. As silkily as a cloth sliding off a new car and as forcefully as a sandblaster stripping paint off a wall. Now you see me not care, and now you do.
The teams emerged and the anthems were upon me while I was still taking it all in. The Uruguayan anthem was first. Or at least I think so, I heard not a single note. The first leg in Montevideo was notable for the boos heard during the Australian anthem, and I well remember the booing of the Iranian anthem 8 years ago in Melbourne, also in apparent retaliation for events in the first leg of that tie, but this was something else.
The boo-ing was primal and aggressive, not a simple tit-for-tat, but a message delivered by metaphorically grasping the collar of Uruguay, fixing the stare and saying something like "Not this time. Your World Cup ends here." Words are nice, and I can say these things with a level of self-satisfaction because I know the outcome of the game as I write this. Unlike 8 years ago I didn't partake in the derision. I asked myself afterwards why, certainly the papers mentioned this action as discourteous, as did some letters to the editor and the ever popular "unAustralian" epithet was applied too. Now respecting the anthem is what we wanted from the fans at the Centenario, we didn't get it so it was denied them here. Is it any more or less right than telling the referee he's a wanker, that Fossati does unnatural things with the livestock roaming the streets of the slums he lives in? Where to draw the line? It's all just arbitrary isn't it?
Oddly Sepp Blatter is reportedly floating the idea to do away with national anthems at games in response to the events surrounding the Switzerland v Turkey tie, in particular the distasteful events of the second leg. Australia's unsporting crowd didn't even get mentioned. Were we unsporting at all, or was the TV broadcast so tightly coupled to the microphone of the singer that the Boo-ing wasn't quite so apparent as it was at the ground. I kind of felt a bit for the performer, clearly he desired to do his country proud but I have my doubts even he could hear himself, part way through you could see him get visibly agitated and redouble his efforts to be heard.
To be fair I didn't hear much of the Australian anthem either. Of course this time it was because it was being sung with the kind of fervour that only a do or die world cup qualifier can elicit from a normally reserved Australian crowd. After all the boo-ing the first bar of music was all that was required to launch every Socceroo supporter into the most raw and passionate rendition of Advance Australia Fair I have heard with the *possible* exception of the 1997 Iran game in Melbourne. Time dims the memory and it's always hard to top the first time. How many times has a remade movie or song impressed you as much as the version you first saw or heard?
While I'm at it there have already been the usual Sydney - Melbourne arguments about the better "home" Stadium. The MCG certainly has a far deeper sporting heritage and once the work is completed will have the bigger capacity. As a Sydneysider I feel compelled to point out that
a. The MCG is round and therefore a poor place to watch a football match
b. The MCG is located in Melbourne
c. The MCG is where we said good bye to the 1998 World Cup and is CURSED
d. It always rains in Melbourne, yes it does.. you know it's true
e. Football Australia is run by New South Welshmen
For this night though... it didn't matter.
Even at the kickoff there was drama about the balls (stupid Nike) not being properly inflated. Shortly after kickoff the ball went out of play and either the floppy one was thrown back to Diogo or they found another bad one. With about 60 seconds of the match gone the crowd derided the team in blue for time-wasting. It was a good time to start the "You are a wanker" chants.
Needing to get settled quickly both sides worked hard to maintain possession but ended up being more concerned with keeping the ball as far away from their goal as possible. In the fourth minute Lucas Neil fouled Morales about 5 metres outside the centre circle and a little off centre. Recoba, as he was to do often, took the free kick and despite the distance managed to play it into the "danger zone" but it eluded any touch. That it did so was enough of a surprise for the ball to bounce and cannon back into play off Schwarzer's chest. Thankfully to Australia's advantage. Any Uruguayan goal tonight would put the need for Australia to 3.
It was understandable then that Australia began a little more defensively than their need for goals might suggest. Harry Kewell was on the bench, possibly for reasons of match fitness or for tactics, nobody knew. Well nobody I was sitting near.
In the opening minutes Australia worked hard and tested the Uruguayans often and well enough to elicit an expectant crescendo from the audience. Quickly followed by disappointment as AUstralia was flagged for an offside, called for a foul or just plain misdirected or over-hit the final ball. Or certainly what turned out to be the final ball.
In the opening minutes Tim Cahill was caught offside, and subsequently was pushed in the back. His dive left a lot to be desired and I was hoping someone more competent would kiss the dirt incase it happened when it might matter. To their credit though Australia did play the ball down the flanks as much as possible, switching play and making Uruguay constantly re-adjust.
Briefly the image of Hannibal from the A-Team flashed across my mind... "I love it when a plan comes together".
Of course the Uruguayan plan was pretty good too. Play it forward, see if you can get past the Australian defenders for a hot at goal. If you can't fall flat on your face and get a free kick for Recoba to take. By the 10th minute Recoba had 3 free kicks and a corner. The most recent one at that stage almost exactly from the same spot that Uruguay scored from a few days earlier. This time Popovic got his head to the ball and sent it away for a corner. Sitting at the far end of the stadium from all this action it was sometimes hard to tell what was going on. It wasn't fun. The subsequent corner saw Lugano come close with a glancing header... well it was close, but the flag was up so inconsequential.. as it turned out.
Australia's first corner of the match was more cleanly defended by Uruguay.. infact many of them were plucked out by Carini before any danger ensued. It's hard to fault anyone but either our corners need work or, despite being a frontrunner for Australian of the Year, Mark Schwarzer could improve on corners.
Australia's first shot on target came from Tony Vidmar who followed up on a half-hearted Uruguayan clearance in the first 15 minutes. Carini may not have been troubled, but he had to go to ground to make the save... not exactly trivial either.
It was Bresciano who had the dead ball duties and a 'sighter' from the corner of the penalty box flew over the bar. The early stats bore out the general impression that Uruguay had the better of the play and, certainly, possession. That's not to say Australia weren't good value.. the shot on goal by Culina on just before 20 minutes had to be turned away by the keeper for Australia's second corner. I know it was just before 20 because exactly on 20 Recoba managed to elude the defence by being more accurate on guessing the trajectory of a bouncing ball than Popovic. Shooting on the edge of the area with just Schwarzer to beat he put the ball wide of the post. Heart in the mouth stuff for your correspondent.
On one foiled Australian attack Tim Cahill was pushed away from the goalkeeper (everyone was upright) with a push into his face. It either wasn't noticed or didn't warrant attention in the judgement of the 3 people whose opinion in this matter counts. Soon after Tony Popovic earned the first yellow card of the match for a raised arm across the path of Recoba's head. In replay the card was fully deserved, but I really didn't think so at the time.
It may have been co-incidental but just after the half hour mark Popovic made way for Harry Kewell. The game changed.
As I said Uruguay probably had the better of the play, though that was changing, and Australia lacked the (and I hesitate to use the word) penetration to seriously threaten the Uruguayan goal with any kind of regularity. Taking off a defender for a forward (or attacking midfielder if you prefer) was a change in emphasis and perhaps signified that Hiddink believed that the Uruguayan threat was either not that serious or could be negated by more pressure in the other direction.
In any case whatever the reason the effect was immediate.
A Chipperfield throw-in towards Cahill, who was in line with the penalty box was played back t Kewell on the sideline. He backheeled it to Chipperfield and ran forward. Chipperfield played it back to Cahill who managed to squeeze the ball to Viduka standing on the 18 yard box with a defender behind him. A quick flick back to Kewell who was running through and it looked like Kewell would shoot and hopefully score within minutes of taking part in play. Harry did indeed swing his left foot at the ball but only clipped it with the faintest of touches. It was his, and indeed Australia's, good fortune that Marco Bresciano had also made his way forward and had got between his marker and the ball. He stretched out and swept the ball into the roof of the net to the enraptured delight of the fans and his team-mates. For his part Bresciano stood transfixed on the spot. Chest out in a version of David with far more bravado.
Aggregate scores level, the crowd at fever pitch and about an hour to go. Things were looking up for Australia and Guus' genius was showing.
Also Harry has been maligned, including by myself, for perhaps not being as fervently devoted to the cause as we want him to be. That night he erased those doubts beginning with that moment. The following day in Sydney's Domain he spoke of the hampering nature of his ailments and how people mistook the genuine ills as an excuse to play less exciting fixtures.
It doesn't matter Harry. You either proved us wrong or made up for it... either way there won't be any more doubts from me. I'll still tease you about the accent though.
The half closed out but not before a few more free kicks went to Recoba, and Tony Vidmar earned himself a yellow card for a foul on (I think) Morales. The latter was shown in replay to sneak a look at the referee in between covering his face in pain to see what his efforts would bring.
I know someone who once said the art of conning the referee into such a decision is an artform all itself and done well deserves the kind of 'reward' it sometimes does. I can see his point, but I don't like it.
Not wishing to be outdone Mario Regueiro and Carlos Diogo each managed to get a yellow card for fouls on Culina (?) and Kewell respectively before the 2 additional minutes to halftime were played out.
So here we are. 45 minutes to play and the tie is level. Australia are gaining the ascendancy (as they say) but Uruguay look capable of spiking the punch at any moment. Either way I'm glued to my seat.
Within seconds of the restart Kewell earns a free kick near the Uruguay penalty box from a tackle by Lugano, all the calm that settled as a result of halftime... well any calm that *might* have settled, was washed away in an instant. The Bresciano free kick pin-balled out for a corner and that, in turn, was well defended by Uruguay.
Straight after Uruguay earned a corner, Recoba inevitably took it. This time I was close enough to see him smirk as he strode over among the chorus of boos to set the ball. He seemed to enjoy the notoriety. Lugano connected with the corner, it bounced into the ground and over the bar. It froze me. There wasn't a lot of marking but thankfully the ball didn't go in, and a free kick was called in Australia's favour. Hopefully they learned from the warning. Next time, make sure the back post is covered... OK, I'm an optimist.
There was another Uruguay corner 2 minutes later. Recoba took it. Morales had a free header almost on the penalty spot, it bounced into the ground and over the bar. Fucking hell guys! What was that!!?? Oh, and there was a flag... hard to be offside on a corner, so I guess it was for a foul. Did I mention I hate football?
To be fair Australia were giving Uruguay grief at the other end too. Kewell was in the thick of things, his crosses dangerous enough and soon after the Morales header the crowd groaned for a very different reason as a Kewell cross was turned goalwards by Tim Cahill. Sadly it went somewhat wide. Well why else would the crowd groan... Cahill copped a boot on the ankle from Montero. The referee decided Monetero had interfered with the ball enough to warrant a corner. Carini punched it away and seconds later Culina was booked for holding back Regueiro by the shirt.
Australia were starting to press. Emerton squared a ball destined to get a right smacking into the net only to have the old stager and captain Montero stick out a leg in desperation and divert the danger. Soon after a lobbed ball forward was nodded down by man mountain Viduka and Bresciano followed up with a volley which sizzled over the bar. It was odd how Australia were proving to be quite a handful yet there wasn't a whole heap of saves being asked to be made of Carini. Testament in large part to Uruguay's well drilled defence, and perhaps a little on Australia still seeking the delivery of a killer ball.
Cross by Kewell, intercepted by Montero, corner. An hour gone. Nerves shot. Aaaargh!
By this stage a 10% deficit in possession (55-45) by Australia had turned into a 7% advantage. A lot of it was spent probing and sending the ball out wide to the flanks looking to see if the Uruguayans could be outmaneuvered into providing a path to goal. On the scoreboard it didn't really help. Shots at goal were level on 8 too. Wave after wave of encouragement rolled off the crowd and onto the field. It was a concentrated effort to provide the 12th man advantage the Socceroos had been asking for in the preceding days. Nobody was sure it was working, but it was not going to be for the want of trying.
Lugano spent a bit of time trying to convince the referee Kewell was taking a dive about 66 minutes in. He didn't get his way... this time.
Dario Rodriguez on the other hand didn't enjoy the same outcome when he showed his studs over the ball when challenging Culina for the ball. Seconds before Cahill had done similar, with less devastating effect, on what might have been Regueiro. The game started to feel ... I dunno.. edgy.. heated. I mean for a World Cup qualifier you expect that, but still. It was starting to get nasty. Few people do nasty better than Uruguay though.. so it's a dangerous path to tread.
With 20 minutes to go, Viduka was through on goal... but just offside. It's a bit like those horror movies. Australia were beating down the door behind which Uruguay had barricaded itself, but inexplicably those rickety chairs wedged under the doorknob and the overturned shelf did enough to keep Australia out. At least as long as Uruguay needed to find a door to the cellar for the next scene.
Then at the 73rd minute a tired Recoba made way for Zalayeta. Personally I would have told Recoba to just sit in the centre circle and wait for the 9 other guys to earn as many free kicks as possible. He's just that good. The other side of that coin is that the free kicks he was getting ceased to be quite as dangerous as early in the game and certainly the first leg. Perhaps a fit Zalayeta is worth more to Uruguay's efforts to get that vital away goal. Who'd be a coach eh?
Pablo Garcia was next into the referee's book for a tackle on Tim Cahill. 15 minutes to go.
Perhaps the knock he received just slowed him up enough that the cross Bresciano put in a few minutes later saw Cahill arrive late and only manage to glance the ball wide of the far post rather than power it into the net. In any case it's nice to know Uruguay can get the wobbles at the back as well.
Speaking of wobbles at the back.. with barely 13 minutes to go to full time Paulo Montero pulled up chasing after a defensive clearance by Australia. Doug, who was with me at the time and knows about such things, merely said "He's gone". He elaborated that he has had many problems with his right calf (or was it hamstring..) and that this may not only end his game here and now, but his international career. The following week Montero and Dario Silva both announced the end of their international careers. Smart man that Doug. I was just glad this awesome defender was going to stop making life hard for Australia.
As if to underline the difference this made Kewell got a right foot shot off on Carini who did well to shovel it away for a corner. Perhaps the chair under the doorknob I spoke of earlier had finally given way. Even the resulting corner went better than previously. Still no goal though...
In the last few minutes Australia were all over Uruguay like a teenager on his date at the movies. With barely 5 minutes to go Harry Kewell latched onto a misdirected free kick by Uruguay and hared down the field for another go at glory before being tackled by ... oh go, on, guess.. You know who I'm talking about. That's right. Lugano. Guess what happened next. You never will... oh.. you did... yes, Harry got booked for taking a dive. Oh the insanity of it all. Then a clear corner wasn't given Australia's way either. The sense of wronging was strong. It was like FIFA really didn't want us there and Sepp had called the officials to stop stupid shit like Australia qualifying from happening. Obviously it was nothing like that, humans in a pressure situation act a little funny. You see it every week on Survivor.
Just as the 90 minutes had elapsed, and another 3 were advertised to be taken to meet fulltime, strains of Waltzing Matilda started to echo around the ground. You can't script stuff like this. Life always trumps what meagre ideas we can concoct in our minds.
I think most readers here would be familiar with the kind of superbeing a crowd like this becomes and how, as part of it, your experiences are so magnified and intense that everything you are is subsumed by a single purpose. That single purpose was Australia win the tie, and everything was done for that single reason.
So when I saw Zalayeta dance down the sideline, pass the ball and have the ensuing cross caught by Schwarzer I really didn't expect him to throw it straight to another Uruguayan. Thankfully he was fouled as he threw it (that will form the basis for Mark's excuse about the aim) and the referee awarded a free kick. Maybe FIFA had been on the phone after all.. just kidding.
10 seconds shy of the extra 3 minutes it was to be extra time. A long night beckoned.
Extra time can sometimes be a tedious half hour of crap before penalties are taken. This is, in no small part, why FIFA flirted with a golden goal rule. Now it's been a rule that has benefitted Australia against Uruguay before, in the 1993 World Youth Cup but no such rule was in place here. So it was still good to see both teams make a serious attempt at winning the game without the closest thing to Russian Roulette being used to decide the overall winner. Hmm.. there was a joke about playing Russian Roulette with an automatic... it escapes me.
Australia won an early corner and Bresciano's near post delivery was easily cleared. However the lead up work was quite enterprising.
5 minutes in it was time to stir things up and Guus Hiddink put the Viduka-esque John Aloisi on in place of Bresciano. It was a remarkably similar change to that of putting Zalayeta on for Recoba. Perhaps at a better time to do so than Uruguay did it. Soon after Varela sent a shot wide of the posts and Jorge Fossati put on the lightning fast Estoyanoff for Mario Regueiro.
The first thing Estoyanoff did was to glide past Kewell and send in a cross which was deflected away for a corner. OK, so I know he might look better the longer the game has gone on but really I'd have put this guy in sooner. Maybe not from the start, but perhaps we could take the Kewell introduction as an example.
Still.. all hindsight is 20/20 and who's to say I am right. Had I been I am glad Fossati did not do it.
Guillermo Rodrigues got a clean header onto the corner but it went over the bar, this time without bouncing first. If Uruguay were to score I'm almost sure it would have been from a header.
Of course just to prove me wrong Australia almost cracked with Uruguay raining down on the Australian goal and the ball hardly leaving the ground as opportunities and chances were quashed and wasted and eventually it all boiled down to a corner and a thumping clearance by Viduka.
The first half of extra time finished with a blocked shot on the Uruguay goal by Australia, Chipperfield I think. Meanwhile the remaining Australian subs were warming up, including Kalac, right in front of where I was.
It later turned out that Hiddink had planned to put the taller Kalac in goal for the shootout but was foiled by Emerton succumbing to cramps and having to be replaced by Skoko with just over 10 minutes to play in extra time. Who knows how that had turned out?
Before Emerton was given the chance to leave the pitch Morales managed to get a yellow card for trying to take over some of the officiating duties. He's a funny bloke, I mean the crowd hated him enough in a blue shirt and he wants to be the guy in the black one?
Australia really tried, as did Uruguay, to close out this match but the ball just wouldn't go in. At least two good chances, one cut out before an unmarked Kewell had a chance to aim at goal from in front and the other a last gasp challenge on Viduka as he was about to turn in a cross, went unfulfilled and were closely followed by a long range shot from Skoko after the keeper had come out to punch away a high ball.
The high drama came as Morales came within half a metre of breaking Australia's hopes with a followup effort across goal on a stretch while evading Lucas Neill.
I cam close to just blacking out when that happened.
Then Schwarzer stayed on his line and allowed Zalayeta a header at goal which, thankfully, was weak and ineffective and easily picked up. You know people say misses like that mean you are destined to win. I prefer to believe you have some luck and tonight a lot of it went Australia's way. After 32 years we might have been due some.
Penalty kicks ended up being played at the goals in front of me, so that was good. At that stage that was pretty much the only positive I could find.
The first shot was taken by Kewell against Carini. Kewell placed the ball to Carini's right, Carini went left. Goal. Rapture.
It was interesting the curl you can get on a ball on such a small distance. From my perspective at least the ball swung out wide quickly, then straightened and arrowed into the corner of the netting. Fabulous stuff.
The next shot was taken by Dario Rodriguez against Mark Schwarzer. Well I was there when Mark put Australia through against Canada in 1993. After that game he said he stood his ground and waited for the shot to come before going one way or the other to put maximum pressure on the penalty taker. He's still using that and it paid big, big dividends against Rodriguez who went to the left of the keeper, but not left enough to evade Mark who was going the same way. No goal. More rapture.
Next was Lucas Neill, who stood over the ball, took two steps and put it into the same corner Kewell did. Carini went the wrong way. Really apart from the run up it wasn't much different from Kewell. Oh, Neill is right-footed. I was starting to wonder what the big fuss about shootouts was. This was easy...
Schwarzer against Varela was a close run thing too. Again both the shot and the keeper went the same way, much like Uruguay's first penalty. This time the ball just managed to slip under Schwarzer's body for the goal. So close. Not much rapture this time. But we were still ahead.
After Vidmar's kick I was convinced Australia had placed some sort of homing beacon into one corner of the goal because Vidmar did the same thing the previous two did and, yep, Carini went the wrong way again. It was mesmerising, and better still we were 3-1 up.
Estoyanoff was slightly fresher than most players on the pitch and his penalty was duly clinical. Schwarzer went the wrong way and had he not he'd still only have been clutching at air.
It's OK because Viduka was up next and surely he'd put the ball in the net, Carini along with it if he was foolish enough to get a hand to it. Alas there are still only 2 certainties in the world. Mark stuttered on his run up, saw the keeper go the same way his shot was and tried to compensate for it beyond the extremes of the goalmouth. The ball ran wide to the keepers right and the homing beacon thing didn't look so good anymore. The next day on the podium in the Domain Mark was asked about that penalty and what he was thinking at the time. His response was "Bleep!, Bleep!, Bleep! Bleep!". Oh yeah.. I know what he means.
The bright side, if there was one, was that Australia were ahead so the next penalty could really only draw Uruguay level. Marcelo Zalayeta stepped up, placed the ball, walked back to the 'D' turned, hands on hips and waited for the referee's whistle. Games turn on moments like this, the participants really only grasp the enormity of their actions much later. As 80-odd thousand people looked on Schwarzer crouched as Zalayeta strode in. Schwarzer says he waited to see which direction the ball goes before committing. I've freeze framed these moments and the instant before his right foot strikes the ball Schwarzer is already moving to his left. Good thing too because the penalty is well hit. Going to his left... at height. Schwarzer has moved too soon, the ball is above him as he falls. Then we have one of those slow motion moments where Johnny hero yells "Nooooooooooo!" and launches himself at the bullet destined to kill his wife/daughter/best friend/pet dog and intercepts it in a selfless act. If you take out the potential for death and the selflessness it was just the same. As the ball flew above Mark reached out with his enormous right hand and swatted the ball away.
So it was that one moment Uruguay are about to draw level, and in one beautiful motion the next penalty had the potential to see Australia through. The crowd knew it too and boy did they let it be known that they were sick to death of the tension and can we just get on and qualify already. On the step frame replay it's remarkable how little reaction time Mark had to save the show, as opposed to how many frames it took for the crowd to start jumping up and down as if to crush the ground beneath in some rubbish compacting procedure.
If there had been an election the next day Mark Schwarzer would be running the country now.
Moments later Aloisi stood in the same spot Zalayeta had, and Carini for Schwarzer. But where Schwarzer crouched Carini stood arms by his side. So too instead of hands on hips as Zalayeta Aloisi stood hands by his sides. Aloisi and two of his opponents playing with Alaves in Spain the Uruguayans had a good idea where Aloisi's best penalty would go. This was the time for your best penalty. Aloisi later said he knew if he hit it as well as he had in practice then he'd score. Sometimes you dream of scoring a winning goal for your country... if only Hiddink knew how good I really was...
Just for the hell of it I froze the moment before Aloisi's left boot met the ball. Carini was already moving to his left also. The similarity is uncanny. At the time it was over in a flash. Aloisi steps up, boom, goal, cue pandemonium. My friend Doug later described it as a stadium full of people in paroxysms of joy. I was elated, I wanted to hug the planet, truly the moment was here and it couldn't have come any harder or, as a consequence better. I made do by hugging the people around me, apart from the guy next to me who I had earlier lamented the lack of marking from corners to I had never spoken to these complete strangers and right now they were all my very personal close friends. I shouted at the sky... I don't think a lot of sound came out by that stage anyway.
I wish there were some way I could convey the atmosphere at the stadium at that moment. I'm really not doing it justice.
Meanwhile Aloisi was running at full pelt, tore his shirt off and was pursued by 10 other guys who enveloped him somewhere past halfway. I had barely blinked and not a single Uruguayan was left on the field. Aloisi managed to swap his already removed shirt with one of his rivals just before they disappeared up the players tunnel.
Just as I returned to my senses I realised how exhausted I was. Every bit of strength left me and I just stared around me. A lot of things went through my mind at that moment, many of them flashing back to how crap I felt after fulltime. Some of them alive with the possibilities of what could come next. One thing stood out though. There'd never be another match like this. Sure there'll be other qualifiers, but against Asian sides who will be hard to beat, but they're not a South American World Cup winner. Also the do or die qualifier, may not be there anymore. We might end up qualifying while we sleep and China take a point off Japan meaning Australia will have secured 2nd spot on the ladder. It was the end of Oceania, a glorious, wonderful end, but I was there. Doug was great, but at that very moment I wanted Jen with me. She was in the US though... but lived it up her own way.
Just as she was to do soon after many kilometres away I, along with many others, began to sing the Men at Work classic "Land Downunder" at the prompting of the stadium PA system. I don't know how long they looped that track, but it was awesome. While the stage in the middle of the ground was hastily put together and the music and singing continued I was happy. Nobody left, well some people did, a lot of them were wearing blue or had kids to get into bed (good luck with that).
The players did their lap of honour, could probably have made 10 if they wanted. They were called on stage to rapturous applause and said a few brief words and Guus, not one to get swept away, did too.
Long after the final whistle had gone so did the players. I shudder to think how little time the newspapers had to shred their print run, get the pictures and and stories and make a *lot* of newspapers.
There was footage of the Australians in their dressing rooms. Kelly Preston and John Travolta (Qantas spokesperson and Qantas are principal sponsors of the team) was in town doing promo work in relation to the new Airbus A380 and happened to find himself in there with the boys. He seemed quite taken with what he saw and bizarrely there was footage of everyone singing "You're the one that I want". Apparently that mischievous Zeljko Kalac was to blame.
Clutching my program I braved the sardine train back to the city. Inexplicably from the throng of people Andrew Howe found me and we were both incoherent, so a hug had to do. He is one of the core of people who keep this website going. We don't see each other much. The internet's a funny old place.
Various people have stories about how their transport home was either very subdued or very boisterous. Mine was subdued, except for the young English boys who obviously missed some of the point. I got a nice nod from their older companion (dad?) which all at once said..."never mind them, I understand". They did like my program.
So back in Sydney (the Olympic stadium is about 15 minutes by train) I got out and I might as well have gone through some sort of temporal displacement anomaly. Cars all over the place were tooting and honking their horns like nobody's business. It was something like midnight and cars had people waving flags yelling and cheering. You'd wave and they'd respond, cars drove by people cheered, it was surreal. Well for Australia at least, overseas readers might wonder what the fuss was about.
Finding a pub the match was being replayed, it was in the second half already but it was good to sit and watch, drink and talk. Others filtered in, reliving the moments.
The more hardy souls went all night. I was by no means the picture of health as I rolled up the following day for a reception of the boys in the Domain but some of the others had aged 30 years in a night. By that stage newspapers and TV were replaying every last bit of the glory. Suddenly the country was football mad. Actually that's not fair, most of them were football mad already. They just got an opportunity to really show it. Afterwards I heard a patient in the nearby hospital made his way to the park in a drip and dressing gown to see the heroes of the day. I didn't see him... but respect!
Sadly some drunken politician who purports to be NSW Premier got more stage time than he deserved. I wish more of the interstaters had joined in the "tunnel" chant. The boys didn't look too bad considering I was pretty sure they hadn't slept, but to their credit they all fronted up, spoke with aplomb and humour and very soon afterwards had to leave for club duty.
On the way back I was determined to buy a copy of every major paper I could find. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be, and it was only 1pm.
I had to go to work, trust me it was important, but the few people who saw and/or heard me were horrified. It was kind of funny, but I was hungover, my throat was killing me I was tired, oh so very tired, but I was feeling fine.