But, sadly, it was the start of a long and hurtful exile from the biggest single sporting event in the world.
Failure to go back-to-back at 1978 World Cup
This was a complicated qualification that ultimately proved beyond Australia.
Having seen off New Zealand and Taiwan in the early stages, Australia managed home wins over Hong Kong and South Korea, but losses on home soil against Iran and Kuwait left the side facing an uphill task.
A 1-0 away loss to Kuwait in the penultimate game ended Australia's hopes of qualification.
Kiwis kill our dreams for 1982 World Cup
A simpler qualification path for the 1982 tournament proved no better for the Socceroos, who were outpointed by one of the best ever New Zealand sides in a group that included Indonesia, Taiwan and Fiji.
New Zealand defeated Australia 2-0 at the SCG in May 1981 all but ending Australia's hopes of making it through and the All Whites would go on to play in their first World Cup until 2010.
Scots outclass Aussies
Australia had no such trouble with the Oceania sub-group four years later, progressing past New Zealand, Israel and Taiwan in the first stage.
Scotland stood between Australia and a spot at the 1986 World Cup finals and the Scots made the long trip to Melbourne after defeating Australia 2-0 in the first leg at Hampden Park.
The Socceroos tried desperately to get back into the tie, but could only manage a 0-0 draw.
More hurt ahead of Italia 90
After coming so close to qualifying in 1986, the 1990 campaign under Frank Arok was a disappointment.
Up against New Zealand and Israel, Australia began well with a home win over the All Whites and a draw away to Israel.
But New Zealand won 2-0 in Auckland and won its way through to the next stage when Australia drew with Israel in Sydney.
Maradona’s men see off brave Aussies
After seeing off New Zealand at the first stage of qualification for the 1994 tournament to be held in the USA, Australia took on Canada home and away, with the home side winning each leg 2-1, forcing a penalty shootout.
Mark Schwarzer made his mark in a Socceroos shirt, saving two penalties and helping Australia through to a playoff against South American powerhouse Argentina.
Argentina, which included Diego Maradona, one of the greatest players ever to have graced a football field, travelled to Sydney in October 1993 to take on the minnows.
But Australia was valiant and emerged with a 1-1 draw.
Three weeks later, Australia faced a fanatical Argentine crowd in Buenos Aires. Argentina prevailed 1-0 to qualify, but Australia had earned considerable respect.
Heartbreak at the MCG in 1997
The momentum built in the 1994 campaign carried into the quest to make the grade for the 1998 tournament in France.
Terry Venables arrived to manage the team and hopes were high especially after the Socceroos knocked over Solomon Islands, Fiji and New Zealand with ease.
Iran now stood between Australia and its destiny and a 1-1 result in the first leg in Tehran had Australia well-placed.
Famously, Australia had one foot on the plane to Paris, when it led 2-0 with just 20 minutes left in the second leg in Melbourne.
A pitch invasion resulted in a break of concentration, however, and Iran pinched a goal back on 71 minutes.
Khodadad Azizi then stole in for an equaliser which put Iran through on the away goals rule.
It was one of the darkest days in Australia's football history.
So close... again
The qualification for the 2002 World Cup began with a series of lopsided matches against Oceania opposition in Coffs Harbour.
Australia famously thrashed American Samoa 31-0, with Archie Thompson scoring 13 goals, world records that stand to this day.
In a year where Australia finished third in the Confederations Cup, including a 1-0 win over Brazil, the Socceroos prevailed over New Zealand to set-up a home and away qualification tie against Uruguay.
A Kevin Muscat penalty gave Australia a 1-0 advantage after the first match in Melbourne, but the intimidating Estadio Centenario awaited in Montevideo.
After Dario Silva scored early, the tie looked set to be decided by penalties, but in another heartbreaking exit, Richard Morales scored twice late in the match to get Uruguay through.
But unbeknownst to the Aussies who trooped off the pitch in Montevideo, redemption was to come in the most spectacular fashion against Uruguay. It was just a matter of waiting four years.
Monday, the night that changed Australia: November 16, 2005