Australia v Uruguay by Thomas Esamie

Australia 1 - Uruguay 0

Well against my expectation (though not hope), and probably a few others too Australia and Uruguay met in the second semi-final to decide who would play Brazil in the final (and the Czech republic in the 3/4 playoff). Also prior to this game Robbie Slater announced that at the conclusion of the tournament he would retire from international football. Whether or not he knew it at the time he had already played his last international as he was not selected for either this match nor ,as it turned out, the final.

In this game too Channel Seven, the Australian broadcaster, decided it would be a good idea to show commercials during the match. For the record there were 4 such breaks during play and the advertisers were Canon (printers), Guy Lian (chocolates), Darrell Lea (chocolates), Brescia (furniture), one of those irritating "love God" commercials and a good number of station promotional clips. As it turns out the match was also shown on delayed telecast so that as the studio pundits Beretta and Wade were doing their halftime spiel the result was already known. It is for this reason that I believe Paul Wade was being unusually upbeat about Australia's chances in this game when there seemed to be little to base this confidence on.

Australia started well, winning a corner, but it wasn't long before Uruguay showed that even with a relatively young side they are no less formidable than the best side Uruguay could field. Of course Uruguay have a reputation for being rough. Whether this is deserved when the days when the stereotype was born are long gone is not for me to say but certainly everytime the Uruguay team commit a few fouls those memories come back. Zalayeta scored a goal after the whistle had gone for a foul and got carded for that and minutes later a very ugly hack by Mendez at the ankle of Aurelio Vidmar got the former a booking as well. You would be forgiven for thinking this yellow card frenzy in the first five minutes of the game would eventually lead to a diminishing of numbers but as it turns out the only other yellow card of the game went to Kevin Muscat of Australia after a scuffle with a tackler who was rather too eager and then got upset when Muscat gave him an imprint of his boot on the inside of his thigh.

Australia, in most games and certainly this one, lacked the penetration needed to get into good goalscoring chances. Their best hope of the half was an Aurelio header after about 13 minutes which lobbed gently to the goalkeeper. Uruguay on the other hand were quite good coming forward but were frustrated by Australia's ability to defend. Zalayeta, Oliveira and Recoba all had presentable opportunities when respectively taking a shot across the face of goal just wide of the far post, having a solid shot saved by Bosnich and Recoba had a half chance to take a shot but wanted too many touches thus allowing the defence to recover and crowd him out.

Uruguay were probably a bit frustrated with the run of events and Kevin Muscat is well known for having a short temper. Muscat seemed to have overcome this problem but when he was tackled after a half hour and dug his boot into the tacklers thigh a little shoving contest ensued involving about a dozen players. I think the referee did well to calm the situation and booked Muscat eventhough the tackle prompting his actions was probably worthy of a card too.

Uruguay then spoilt a golden chance when on a break they had a 4 on 2 advantage and as the money ball was made to cut the equation to 2 on none an outstretched leg stopped the move. From memory it was either Tony Vidmar or Milan Ivanovic who came to Australia's rescue. As the half ended Uruguay managed to pile on more pressure with a series of corners but try as they might the ball would not enter the Australian goal.

The second half was in Uruguay's control for most of the time but still the best either side could do was to take long range efforts at goal. Foster and Lazaridis for Australia and the Oliveira-Zalayeta-Recoba triumvirate for Uruguay all took their chances on shots from outside the area and none of them caused much grief for the 'keepers. There wasn't a single dangerous looking corner played by either side and while Uruguay had the run of play they could hardly be called dominating.

While Zalayeta looked like Uruguay's best chance to score a goal in what was, at times, a tiresome game to watch it was still surprising that another good attacking option in Recoba was subbed out for Silva. At the same time Josip Skoko came on to replace Aurelio Vidmar who had had a wretched tournament. The substitution might have helped Australia a little more and only 3 minutes later Skoko managed to get on the end of a decent cross but planted his header just wide of goal.

Uruguay got a late chance to win when a free kick was awarded near the corner flag on Australia's end but as the crosses which had gone before failed to best the Australian defence so too this effort was cleared. Full time finished and still no goal had been scored. Infact Australia had just completed their 3rd scoreless match in a row.

Back in 1993 at the World Youth Championships Australia and Uruguay were contesting a quarterfinal in which Uruguay should have been leading by 2 or 3 in a very ill-tempered affair. That time the spite mainly coming from the Uruguayans. After the full time whistle went and scores were tied Australia won the match in a golden goal only a few minutes into the extra period. Remarkable then that the same should happen here, that time it was Anthony Carbone with a far post header. This time Harry Kewell, after less than 2 minutes, was Australia's hero. Perhaps this is the start of one of those FIFA rules like "Brazil and Germany must never meet in a World Cup" or "Spain will always beat Denmark in a major competition" or "England will always miss a penalty or two when playing Germany".

Still Kewell took the ball in the Uruguay half after one of Uruguay's moved had broken down and the ball was passed to Kewell. Harry then ran down the right sideline and cut back inside. Skoko ran across the penalty area in the opposite direction to draw defenders away (successfully) and Kewell took aim and swung his left foot at the ball. The shot was hit hard but only barely right of the keeper, rather than fist it over the bar or away to the side all he managed was to defelect the ball into the net. It was a good shot to be sure but the goal was more goalkeeping error than brilliant shot. Still a result is a result and the rematch with Brazil was on.

Written by Thomas Esamie