World Cup 2006


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    Articles related to OCEANIA 2006 WC qualifiers:

    Preview Apr 25, 2004
    Preview May 27, 2004
    Update May 30, 2004
    Update Jun 2, 2004
    Update Jun 4, 2004
    Update Jun 6, 2004
    Wrap-up Jun 28, 2004
    Update Sep 4, 2005
    Wrap-up Sep 19, 2005
    Preview Nov 8, 2005
    Update Nov 13, 2005
    Update Nov 16, 2005




    Preview: Australia vs Uruguay play-off

    by Paul Marcuccitti

        Four years ago, my first columns for this site covered Australia and Uruguay playing off for qualification for the World Cup finals. Now I’m back where I started.

        Fortunately, football in Australia is not where it was in November 2001. The sport has had an overhaul and it’s being run by better people who have made drastic improvements. Australia is now a member of the Asian Confederation which is good news for our national team. It’s also good for the eight clubs in our new national league. That’s going well too.

        Qualifying for the World Cup finals is no longer deemed to be the answer to the sport’s problems in Australia. It probably wasn’t the answer anyway.

        Of course, long-suffering supporters of Australia’s national team are still hoping and praying that the streak of qualification failures ends now. Despite the bonus of having Mr Guus Hiddink’s polish, most fans are nervous because Australia’s squad for the playoff has about the same quality as the squad of four years ago. The Uruguayans also appear to be as strong as they were when they defeated us 3-1 (on aggregate) in 2001.

        Hmmm, I just said “us”. Sorry, you have to try to forgive me. I am an Australian and I can’t pretend to be impartial.

        This time the first leg will be at Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario on Saturday (Sunday morning in Australia) and the return match next Wednesday will be at Sydney’s Telstra Stadium. You’ve seen it, at least on television, as it was the main stadium for the 2000 Olympics and it hosted the gold medal match of the men’s football tournament (Cameroon v Spain).

        The build up to the playoff has included more than a hint of ill feeling between the two nations. And drama seems to occur daily – I’ve had trouble deciding when to post this preview because I keep wondering what the next 24 hours will bring!

        First, the Uruguayans asked Australia for permission to play the opening match a day earlier (Friday). Possibly because they sensed that the move would advantage the South American team more than the Socceroos, Football Federation Australia and Guus Hiddink refused. Uruguay then retaliated by moving the kick-off time for the match in Montevideo from 5.00 pm (local time) to 9.00 pm. The idea was that it would force the Aussies to leave Montevideo the following morning as it would be impossible to get commercial flights home that night. Australia then chartered a flight so that the team could still fly out immediately after the match.

        Uruguay was/is probably also sensitive about Australia’s security concerns. When the Australian players arrived in Montevideo four years ago, a group of local troublemakers met them at the airport and spat at and abused them. Australia wants to avoid a repeat and the players are staying in nearby Buenos Aires before they quietly roll into Uruguay on the night before the match. Along with mentioning the airport incident in 2001, John O’Neill, Chief Executive of Football Federation Australia, has also said that the Australian players would walk off the pitch if badly treated in Montevideo.

        Just over a week ago, Australian and Uruguayan officials met for peace talks (I imagine that one day that meeting will be as famous as Kennedy meeting Kruschev) and you hoped that all the fuss would end there. It didn’t. Uruguay’s coach Jorge Fossati then complained about Danish officials being appointed for the Montevideo match and Belgians for the return in Sydney. Why? Because Australia has a Dutch coach. So those officials will favour the Aussies, right?

        Since then, FIFA has switched the Belgian referee to the Turkey-Switzerland playoff and appointed a Spaniard to take control of the match in Sydney. It’s not clear whether FIFA was influenced by Fossati’s comments.

        But just when you thought this B-grade off-field soap opera might be over, another episode. The Uruguayans thought they had trumped Australia by moving the kick-off in Montevideo from 5.00 pm to 9.00 pm because they had chartered a flight to Australia for the second leg. But then the Australians also chartered a flight. Now it seems that Uruguay’s chartered flight has fallen through which forces them to leave the following morning – the complete reverse of the situation they were trying to engineer. If the Uruguayan team needs to rely on commercial flights to get to Australia, they’ll arrive in Sydney barely 36 hours before the kick-off of the 2nd leg.

        Now – you guessed it – Uruguay wants to shift the Montevideo kick-off back to 5.00 pm because the move to 9.00 pm backfired completely. But they needed Australia’s permission to change it again and, not surprisingly, Australia has just decided to leave the Uruguayans in the hole they dug for themselves.

        Fortunately for Uruguay, its players are much better at football than its football association is at politics and administration.

        It might surprise you to know that a small football rivalry exists between the two nations. Australia and Uruguay first played each other in 1974 in preparation for that year's World Cup finals (which both nations qualified for). Both matches were in Australia and both were spiteful. The first was a scoreless draw – probably a bit of a shock for the 1970 semi-finalists. A couple of days later, Australia defeated Uruguay 2-0 but the match is remembered for an incident that ended the playing career of one of the finest Socceroos of the era, Ray Baartz. While running forward, Baartz was deliberately chopped across the throat by a Uruguayan opponent. Baartz later suffered a stroke caused by swelling in his neck and fell into a coma. He recovered but he could never play football again.

        At the 1974 finals, Uruguay did no better than the Baartz-less Australia. Both teams recorded one draw and two losses.

        A friendly in Montevideo in 1992 resulted in a 2-0 win for Uruguay and in 1997 the two nations met in a tournament for the first time. It was a semi-final of the Confederations Cup in Saudi Arabia and after 90 minutes produced no score, Australia grabbed a golden goal winner in extra time through 19 year old Harry Kewell. Even before the 2001 playoff, there was a bit of history between the two nations.

        So what will happen in 2005? After such a build up, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that the matches will end up being a sideshow. But they are all that counts and one hopes that we can forget about the controversies of the past few weeks.

        The difference between the paths of each team could not be more extreme. Australia won Oceania with ease while Uruguay needed victory in the last of its 18 CONMEBOL qualification matches to take 5th spot in South America. Australia has played several friendlies in the last two years with the most recent being a 5-0 win over Jamaica in London.

        It’s hard to compare form in friendlies with competitive matches. The Confederations Cup is a much-maligned tournament but it at least gave the Aussies some better practice.

        Australia’s squad is nearly full-strength. But the only unavailable player is regular captain and stopper Craig Moore and that puts a lot of pressure on the defence. Lucas Neill is an almost certain starter but it’s difficult to know who will join him at the back. Tony Popovic is in the squad but hasn’t been getting much game time with Crystal Palace. Guus Hiddink might have to use either Tony Vidmar or the less experienced Michael Thwaite and Ljubo Milicevic. Scott Chipperfield and Brett Emerton are likely to start in the wing-back roles that the Dutch coach favours.

        In midfield and up forward, Hiddink has some luxuries. Harry Kewell is the only worry. He is recovering from injury and although I think he’ll play, it’s hard to imagine him completing 180 minutes. Otherwise there is a full hand to choose from and Jason Culina, Tim Cahill, Marco Bresciano, Josip Skoko, Vince Grella and Ahmad Elrich provide plenty of options. The only other query is whether Mark Viduka starts as a lone man up front or gets extra support from either John Aloisi or Archie Thompson.

        A concern for Australia will be that seven players are on yellow cards. Not all are likely to start the first match but if any of them are booked in Montevideo they will be suspended for the match in Sydney.

        Uruguay also has its problems. The biggest appears to be in goals as ‘keeper Sebastian Viera seems unlikely to play and Fabian Carini, who played in the 2001 playoff, is also recovering from injury. Defender Diego Lugano and midfielder Gustavo Varela are suspended from the first match but nevertheless, both have been included in Jorge Fossati’s squad of 27.

        Otherwise the same players that undid Australia in the Centenario four years ago will be hoping to repeat the dose: Richard Morales, Dario Silva and the mercurial Alvaro Recoba. For a team that has struggled for goals in recent matches, Uruguay has an enviable choice of forwards with Marcelo Zalayeta, Sebastian Abreu and Diego Forlan also in contention. Forlan is another player trying to recover from injury but with or without him, the Celeste have the edge in depth.

        So Australia has it all to do to end its long run of outs. At the risk of depressing my compatriots, I’m going to point out that this will be the 8th time that Australia has reached a two-legged playoff where victory would mean qualification for the World Cup finals and defeat would mean elimination. As the following table shows, so far we’ve lost 6 of those playoffs.

    Year  Opponent     1st Match     2nd Match    Aggregate
    1965  North Korea  Lost 6-1      Lost 3-1      Lost 9-2
    1969  Israel       Lost 1-0 (a)  Drew 1-1 (h)  Lost 2-1
    1973  South Korea  Drew 0-0 (h)  Drew 2-2 (a)  Drew 2-2
    1985  Scotland     Lost 2-0 (a)  Drew 0-0 (h)  Lost 2-0
    1993  Argentina    Drew 1-1 (h)  Lost 1-0 (a)  Lost 2-1
    1997  Iran         Drew 1-1 (a)  Drew 2-2 (h)  Lost 3-3
                                          (away goals rule)
    2001  Uruguay      Won 1-0 (h)   Lost 3-0 (a)  Lost 3-1
        Some explanations are needed. The 1966 World Cup was the first that Australia entered and the qualifiers in 1965 against North Korea were both played in “neutral” Cambodia. Also, there was no away goals rule when Australia played South Korea in 1973 so a 3rd match was played to decide the tie in Hong Kong. Australia won that match 1-0 and qualified for the 1974 finals.

        Now a member of Asia, Australia has the chance to qualify for 2010 without needing one of these sudden death playoffs. But all Aussie fans will tell you that qualification is already well overdue.

        It will be November 13 in Australia when the first match is played in Montevideo and that’s the 32nd anniversary of the day Australia secured a place at the 1974 finals with its 1-0 win over South Korea in Hong Kong.

        November 16, the day of the 2nd leg, is my 32nd birthday. I was born three days after the great Jimmy Mackay scored the goal that clinched qualification for Australia’s only appearance at the World Cup finals.

        I know it’s self-indulgent to point that out. But when I travel to Sydney and to Telstra Stadium next week, it’ll be the latest step in a long journey – as it will be for most of the other 85,000 people that will be making their way there. We all want the same thing. We’ve all waited for so many years.

    It’s time Australian football continued its climb up the mountain.


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