Can Australia ever win the World Cup?

Soccer World Cup 2006

Andreas Stummer

To person

Andreas Stummer, born in Munich in 1965, lives in Sydney / Australia and reports from there as a freelance correspondent for ARD radio.

Australia's road to the World Cup

After a dramatic penalty shoot-out against Uruguay, the Australian national soccer team qualified for the World Cup finals in Germany. The game in front of around 80,000 spectators in Sydney ended 4-2. For the team of coach Guus Hiddink it is only the second participation after 1974.

Country flag of Australia

As the stage for the 2000 Games, the Sydney Olympic Stadium has seen some dramas. The evening of November 16, 2005, however, is a thriller. Australia versus Uruguay. The winner is going to the soccer World Cup in Germany. After 180 minutes home and return it is a draw. It goes into overtime with no result. A penalty shoot-out has to decide which team will get the last World Cup ticket. Uruguay award two penalties. The long way to the World Cup in Germany is within reach for the Australian team. There are only eleven meters left. The Australians' fifth shooter is defender John Aloisi. If he hits, it's all over. Aloisi slowly puts the ball on the spot, takes a few steps back and waits. Head down, arms on hips. The referee's whistle breaks the paralyzing silence in the stadium. Aloisi runs up resolutely and hammers the ball with his left on the top right corner of the goal. Uruguay's goalkeeper dives on the right side, but when he reaches his fist for the ball, the penalty is already wriggling in the net. 4-3, Australia won. The crowd is raging, the stadium is shaking. Aloisi tears off his jersey with the number 15 and sprints exuberantly on a lap of honor, followed by his teammates. Fireworks rockets light up the night sky, confetti rains down on the playing field.

32 years without Australia

After 32 years in international football offside, the Australian national team had qualified again for a World Cup finals. 83,000 spectators in the sold-out Olympic Stadium dance in the stands. Millions cheer in front of the television or go singing through the streets, free beer is served in the pubs. All of Australia is upside down. "Everywhere strangers hugged and kissed," remembers one soccer fan. "It was like being in a naughty movie. Except that everyone was wearing their clothes. We felt as if we had won the world title." The longest losing streak in the history of Australian sport had come to an end. The last time, and so far the only time, the national soccer team took part in a world championship in 1974. In Germany. No wonder everyone was talking about a game of fate. FIFA ranked Uruguay 17th in the world, Australia 54th. Just ahead of Guatemala and Zambia. On paper, the result was purely a matter of form: football field troop from the end of the football world against South American ball magicians, David against Goliath. But the dwarf tripped the giant.

The Australian team not only won, they were vastly superior. Tactically disciplined, solid in defense, dangerous in a storm. The Australians played with their hearts and minds. And with a flair that no one had thought of the ragged troop. The best Australian football professionals play abroad, many of them with top European clubs. Playmaker Harry Kewell at Liverpool FC, captain Mark Viduka and keeper Mark Schwarzer in Middlesborough, John Aloisi in Spain, some in Italy, some like Paul Agostino in Germany. Coach Guus Hiddink is Dutch. The 59-year-old had only taken over the Australian team shortly before the qualifying games. Money didn't matter. Not even that Hiddink is also on the bench at PSV Eindhoven. His international experience spoke for itself. Hiddink coached the Dutch national team for years and South Korea in 2002 up to the World Cup semi-finals. In Asia he is considered the god of football, and a stadium in Seoul even bears his name. As national coach for Australia, Hiddink managed in just three months what had not been possible for 32 years: to polish up the battered reputation of Australian football.