Emerton on 2005: 'Schwarzy should thank me!'
on 2005: 'Schwarzy should thank me!'
It was the moment that had Emerton thinking maybe the time had arrived for the Socceroos.
With Uruguay holding a 1-0 aggregate lead, star attacker Alvaro Recoba was through on goal in the 20th minute of the second leg in Sydney.
Then at Inter, it was a chance made for the worldly left foot of Recoba, the opportunity to put the visitors ahead on the night and a giant step closer to the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
But, most probably to the disbelief of everyone in the stadium on that memorable November night, his powerful effort went wide with Socceroos goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer beaten.
THE STATUE CELEBRATION
Mark Bresciano would score 15 minutes later to level the tie and Australia claimed a penalty shoot-out victory to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 32 years (his "statue" celebration an iconic image of the night).
"I think it was when Recoba flashed that good chance wide of the post, we thought maybe it's meant to be, maybe it's going to be our night," Socceroos great Emerton recalls.
"Normally he would put away chances like that but luckily enough he missed and we were able to score from there and hang on for the rest of the night."
Hang on Australia did, John Aloisi sending the 'Golden Generation' to Germany 2006 with his decisive spot-kick.
Bresciano levelled the tie with his superb finish from inside the area after a rare Harry Kewell miskick before half-time.
"I remember the goal distinctly," Emerton, who made 95 appearances for Australia, says.
"I was obviously playing on the right-hand side so, it took me a little bit of time to get across to Bresc.
"But I guess it's one of those moments throughout your career which you'll never forget and obviously that got us back into the game.
"But, at that stage by no means did we think that was the winning goal. There was still a lot of work to be done."
Australia's success came on the back of 210 gruelling minutes, a penalty shoot-out and plenty of travel.
A Dario Rodriguez goal had given Uruguay the upper-hand after the first leg in Montevideo, but Emerton never doubted Socceroo coach Guus Hiddink's men had a response.
"I remember being quite positive actually," he said.
"I think only being 1-0 down after the first leg gave us a good opportunity to turn it around at home and with the squad of players we had at our disposal at that time, we thought we were good enough to almost match it with anyone.
"We went into the game being very positive and in the end it all turned out well."
THE INJURY THAT CHANGED OUR HISTORY?
In a game full of rare occurrences, Emerton's may have been the most surprising, and arguably the most vital.
Considered the Socceroos' fittest player, Emerton started cramping in extra time of the second leg of the World Cup qualifier against Uruguay as penalties neared in Sydney in 2005.
Then 26 and plying his trade for Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League, the 95-time Australia international came off in the 110th minute.
Having considered bringing on Zeljko Kalac to replace Mark Schwarzer for the shoot-out, Emerton's substitution marked Guus Hiddink's final change.
Schwarzer would produce heroics, making two saves as the Socceroos booked their spot at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, reaching the showpiece event for the first time in 32 years.
"Rumour has it that Kalac was coming on to replace Schwarzy for the penalties. I think Schwarzy has got a lot to thank me for. He won't admit to it," Emerton says jokingly.
"I think everything happens for a reason and everything fell into place on that particular night.
"After 32 years of heartache and being a big fan growing up as kids, to see the Australian team miss out on so many occasions, to be part of the team that finally got us there was a really proud moment."
Emerton, once described by Socceroos great Tim Cahill as a "machine", rarely tired like that night in Sydney.
Asked how often he cramped, he said: "Not very often at all.
"That just showed I guess how much we exerted ourselves over those two legs, away from home and then obviously travelling a long distance and then playing 90 minutes plus extra time.
'BEST NIGHT OF MY SPORTING CAREER'
"It obviously took its toll on myself and I kind of regret I wasn't on the pitch to take a penalty, but I don't want to change history.
"It was the best night of my sporting career and anyone who was there on the night obviously says that as well."
Hiddink made sure his team were ready for penalties, testing his players from the spot in training the previous night.
Emerton remembers converting his in training and said it was good preparation for what would follow on the memorable November night.
"We actually practiced them the night before at the training session. Guus got every player to take a penalty as if we were in a penalty shoot-out," he said.
"We did have some practice, not a lot, but maybe that mentally just prepared everyone in the right way for what eventually happened."