Ten days ago, on a cold winter’s night in Sydney, rain bucketed down as an entire nation sat on the edge of their seats. With the score deadlocked at 0-0 and with less than 15 minutes left on the clock, the Australian national team faced a tough task. Unable to break through a resilient Iraqi defense, the Socceroos needed a result in order to qualify for Brazil 2014.
Inspiration was needed, a moment of magic to lift the Socceroos. Head coach Holger Osieck signaled to the fourth official that a substitution would be made. A collective sense of disbelief swept through Stadium Australia and indeed the nation as a red number 4 was hoisted up by the official – the very same number on the back of talisman Tim Cahill’s jersey.
With a bemused look, Cahill reluctantly took his place on the bench to be replaced by 30-year-old Japan-based striker Joshua Kennedy. A questionable decision became all the more profound when the fact that Kennedy’s last national team appearance came in November of 2011 was added to the equation.
Barely two minutes later, Osieck prepared to make another change. As Melbourne Victory striker Archie Thompson prepared to take his place on the field, all eyes were on the fourth official to see who would be sacrificed. Hearts sunk across Australia as a red number 10 was hoisted up as 24-year-old Socceroos golden boy and Bundesliga star Robbie Kruse would be the man to make way.
Unrelenting rain continued to pour from the heavens as Archie Thompson received the ball deep on the right flank. With barely 8 minutes left to play, the ball fould itself at the feet of Mark Bresciano, still on the right and on the edge of the box. He spotted an unmarked Kennedy. Bresciano coolly played a perfectly weighted cross to the beanpole striker who in turn rose high to head home amidst an eruption of pure euphoria from the stands.
That was the night Australia sealed its invite to the greatest party in the world. A 1-0 result against Iraq ensured the Socceroos would be appearing in their third straight FIFA World Cup whilst simultaneously signalling to the rest of the football world that Australia has arrived on the world footballing stage, and are not about to leave anytime soon.
Flashback to ten years ago and what do you see? A desolate soccer landscape, a domestic league in shambles and a struggling national team. Something had to give. A change was needed. Soccer Australia became Football Federation Australia and the first baby steps of a new footballing revolution began.
Indeed Australian football has been an ever growing flame as of late, a phoenix rising from the ashes of past qualification heartbreaks. Many an Australian football fan had resigned themselves to a fate of perpetual failure – doomed to consistently fall at the final hurdle.
This all changed on the eve of 16th November 2005. With the score delicately poised at 1-1 after extra time, the hopes of the entire nation rested squarely on one man’s shoulders; one kick, one moment, to change the course of history. The man was Adelaide born John Aloisi and the moment was World Cup qualification secured via a decisive penalty kick against Uruguay.
The 2006 FIFA World Cup held in Germany saw the Socceroos participate in only their second ever World Cup, the first coming coincidently in West Germany 1974. The Socceroos gallantly fought through the group stage only to fall in the cruellest of circumstances via a 95th minute penalty against eventual winners Italy.
World Cup 2010 saw an unprecedented third appearance at a World Cup for Australia. Although eliminated in the group stage, the signs were promising nonetheless. The mentality was shifting; a continually growing domestic competition and a shift into the Asian Confederation broke the ground and laid foundations to a prospering football landscape.
Fast forward to the present day and you find Australia preparing for its third straight FIFA World Cup appearance, and the general consensus amongst the Australian public is this will be its biggest yet. Gone are the days in which simply being there was enough. No, Australia will not show up to merely make up the numbers.
A talented squad with a good mix of established big names and exciting young prospects ensures Australia will be in good stead to match it with the big boys in Rio. Elder statesmen Lucas Neill, Mark Schwarzer, Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano have proven their worth time and again and will know all about handling the high stakes cut-throat pressure cooker atmosphere a World Cup produces.
Experience alone does not win soccer matches, and head coach Holger Osieck is well aware of this. Complementing the older generation of established stars are a promising group of young guns headlined by Robbie Kruse. The Bundesliga star has well and truly cemented his role as Australia’s number ten heading into Brazil 2014. Displaying an excellent combination of composure and poise mixed in with raw speed and flair – a deadly combination which has seen defenders across the world struggling to cope. There’s no wonder he was the fifth most fouled player in Europe’s top five leagues this season.
As Australian soccer continues to rise, all eyes are on Brazil 2014. Although there are no guarantees in soccer, you can be sure of one thing. The Socceroos will fight to the very end. This is not just a World Cup; this is Australia’s chance to cement its place amongst the soccer elite.
Follow David on Twitter @davidallegretti
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