After a very tense match, Australia beat Uruguay and qualified for the 1006 World Cup finals. Uruguay won 1-0 in the first match, in Montevideo, which required Australia to win at home by at least two goals to avoid extra time and a penalty shoot-out.
I have to admit that the Australian team surprised me. They were clearly nervous at the start of the match, making several dumb mistakes and allowing lots of free kicks (which is especially dangerous, as a foolish foul is what gave Uruguay its goal in the first leg). But, after 30 minutes, when the coach replaced one of the midfielders with Harry Kewell, Australia started moving forward and scored very quickly, in a beautiful play.
From that moment onwards, the game was Australia’s. The Uruguayans seemed tired, and the Socceroos pressured them during whole of the second half. Uruguay was only a threat on quick returns, and a major threat at that, but they failed to score on all attempts (with a few good saves by Australia’s goalkeeper).
The only problem for the socceroos was actually scoring: they took to long to shoot the ball, and they did it from too far away or with little accuracy. They still scared the Uruguayan goalkeeper quite a few times, anyway. Despite the pressure, regular time ended 1-o and they moved to extra time. The final thirty minutes were a little more balances, with good attack from both sides, still with Australia having a little more edge. A little too much at times, though: they had five or six offsides during extra time, all of them correctly pointed by the referee. Extra time ended with no goals, and it was time for the penalty shoot-out.
The hero was, undoubtedly, the Australian goalkeeper, who saved two shots; one of them right after a missed shot by Australia’s star scorer, Mark Viduka. At the end, 4-2 Australia, and the 83,000 people present in the stadium started a party that would last the whole night.
With Australia qualifying for the World Cup finals and the success of the A-League, it looks like soccer is taking off in the country. No one realistically expects great results in Germany, but you never know: Guus Hiddink, Australia’s coach, is the man who lead South Korea to a finish among the top four team in 2002. To repeat what was in the player’s shirts last night, never say never.