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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




    Update: Australia vs Uruguay play-off

    by Paul Marcuccitti

    Australia 1 Uruguay 0 [Aggregate score 1-1]
    Australia wins 4-2 on penalties and qualifies for Germany 2006

        I have to call this an update because I found that I could not be a journalist at the Australia-Uruguay match in Sydney; I was a fan. A wrap-up can come later – perhaps when I return to Planet Earth.

        Australia may qualify for plenty of World Cup finals after Germany. But this wasn’t just qualification, it was an exorcism. I think back to some of the disasters: against New Zealand and Israel in 1989; Iran in 1997; and Uruguay in 2001. I’m not sure we could take any more pain.

        And it just had to go all the way to penalties didn’t it? When the final whistle blew at the end of extra time, I heard the football gods laugh. Either Australia was about to have its ultimate heartbreak (just in case the Iran match in 1997 wasn’t bad enough) or it would have to experience the maximum amount of anxiety before qualifying. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that this country has been dominated by football agnostics for so long.

        Well you can deploy the biggest imaginable convoy of bandwagons now. In the seven months before the World Cup finals, the number of Australian football fans is likely to increase at a higher rate than attendances at evangelical church services. Many may eventually disappear; but a lot will stay. I say “welcome aboard”.

        This truly is a unique celebration. Australia may not be a debutant at next year’s World Cup finals but its circumstances are unlike anyone else’s. Other nations have had a lot of near (qualification) misses and many teams have either never qualified or have failed to do so for many years. However, as a member of the Oceania Confederation, Australia has also suffered constantly changing qualification arrangements, often because we’ve been on the wrong side of international football politics.

        So when John Aloisi scored the Socceroos’ winning penalty against Uruguay, urbane men unleashed primeval screams and strangers embraced. Some cried tears of joy. And it’s all because the ghosts have left the building. Oh, and we’re going to Germany by the way.

        Finding the right adjective to describe the atmosphere at Sydney’s Telstra (Olympic) Stadium has been difficult. I’ve settled on hysterical. You might expect that in many other countries but it’s certainly not a given in temperate Australia.

        All the years of qualification failure weren’t the only contributing factor. Media coverage was more extensive than it had ever been before (remember football often struggles for air time in Australia), and the build up to these games started a month ago when it was confirmed that the Socceroos would face Uruguay again.

        On top of that, the off-field controversies that preceded this match – and the match in Montevideo – gave the crowd (of 82,698) an extra edge. Even before the game began it was obvious that Uruguay would step into a more intimidating cauldron than the one it faced at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 2001.

        For this the Uruguayans can blame their coach and their football administrators. The farce over the timing of the first match has been covered at length, as has coach Jorge Fossati’s intervention over the appointment of officials. Star player Alvaro Recoba also managed to hurtle towards the top of Australia’s Lovable Chaps’ List by declaring that Uruguay had a divine right to play at the World Cup finals.

        Fossati’s opposite number, Guus Hiddink, has the greatest claim to divinity at the moment. The Guusite religion – born under the oft-seen slogan “In Guus We Trust” – attracted followers that categorically rejected the false idol Recoba. Like Korea before it, Australia has converted.

        Although I’m pleased about Australia’s move to the Asian Confederation, and the ability to qualify for the World Cup finals without needing one of these sudden-death playoffs, I will miss these matches. I attended both the Iran match in Melbourne in 1997 and the Uruguay match in Melbourne in 2001; they’re wonderful occasions.

        And so was Australia v Uruguay on 16 November 2005. The entire day was memorable. Gold shirts were everywhere in downtown Sydney and each time they met, their owners would smile, clench fists and growl “come on!” to each other. There was no lack of belief among Socceroo fans.

        The match had similarities to the one in Montevideo. The visiting team settled faster and played better in the first half hour. Uruguay had a particularly good chance to score a precious away goal through Recoba but he missed the target in a position where you’d really expect him to hit it.

        With Australia struggling, Hiddink sacrificed a defender, Tony Popovic, to bring on Harry Kewell who had started on the bench. Kewell and Archie Thompson had made way for Marco Bresciano and Tim Cahill to be included in Australia’s starting team.

        After some good build up play, a miscue by Kewell teed Bresciano up for the only goal of the match. It was scored barely a minute earlier than Uruguay’s goal was scored in Montevideo. 1-0 Australia; 1-1 overall.

        The other similarity to the first match was the home team’s domination of most of the second half. With Vince Grella pulling the strings brilliantly in midfield, Tim Cahill running himself into the ground, and Harry Kewell terrorising the Uruguayans on Australia’s attacking left, the Socceroos pushed for a goal that would give them the overall lead. Despite some stirring play, it never came. The best chance fell to Kewell about 10 minutes from full time but Uruguay ‘keeper Fabian Carini saved well. Extra time also produced no goals despite continued Australian pressure.

        But Uruguay will rue a couple of good chances missed in extra time. Its players had opportunities to score the away goal that would have buried Australia but they failed to take them. Australia had a couple of good breaks – history certainly owes us a few.

        The crowd, fervent to the end, found even more passion for the penalty kicks. And, in another sign that the football gods were finally showing rare kindness to Australia, the Socceroos had the advantage of kicking first.

        After Harry Kewell scored, goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer saved from Dario Rodriguez to keep the Aussies in front. When Socceroo captain Mark Viduka stepped up to take Australia’s third penalty, he had the chance to put Australia 3-1 ahead but he shot wide. But then Schwarzer pulled a save right out of the top drawer to deny Marcelo Zalayeta – it was one of the best penalty saves you’ll see. That meant that John Aloisi just had to score to win it for Australia.

        It was going to be sweet for John Aloisi. He plays his club football in Spain and a few of the Uruguayan players are friends of his. They’ve teased him about Uruguay bundling Australia out in 2001 and now he can give it back with interest. Did you like my penalty in Sydney, senor?

        Mark Schwarzer has now made himself a penalty shootout hero on two occasions. The first was in a World Cup qualifier against Canada (also in Sydney) in 1993 when he was a young, little-known ‘keeper who was only playing because Mark Bosnich had made himself unavailable and second choice Robert Zabica was suspended.

        That ’93 campaign ended with defeat against Argentina. Bosnich returned for those matches but one current Socceroo who did play against Maradona and friends was Tony Vidmar. At 35 years of age, Vidmar was one of the successful penalty takers for Australia against Uruguay. It’s his fourth World Cup campaign and he famously wept when the third one ended at the Estadio Centenario in 2001. It’s another great story – there are so many.

        Schwarzer, Kewell, Bresciano and Aloisi have won the headlines but Vince Grella was Australia’s unsung hero on the night. He was inexhaustible in the Socceroos’ midfield and one of the reasons why Australia controlled play for so long. For Uruguay, defender Diego Lugano was outstanding. He was suspended for the first leg and had to cope with the loss of his partner, Paolo Montero, late in the second half when the veteran stopper succumbed to injury.

        I probably don’t have to tell you much more about the moments after Aloisi’s penalty sealed Australia’s qualification. It’s the greatest thing I’ve experienced at a sporting event and I’m so happy that I was lucky enough to be there. For every Australian at the match, about 50 were watching on television. They witnessed one of Australia’s greatest moments in sport. Appropriately, Down Under – the song by pop group Men At Work which was made famous when Australia won the America’s Cup in 1983 – was played several times after the match.

        In all the excitement, I forgot to take my match program with me when I left the stadium. It would have been a nice souvenir but, hey, I’ve always got the match ticket.

        So we’re coming to Germany folks and we’re going to enjoy the ride. Look out world, the Green and Gold Army is on the march.


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