Until 2010, Australia had only ever qualified for two World Cups, both of which were held on German soil in 1974 and 2006. While those two tournaments represent the high water mark of the achievements of the national side, the multiple attempts to qualify for the biggest single sport event in the world have characterised the Qantas Socceroos' history.
While Australia's first international was played against New Zealand in 1922, its first attempt at qualification for the World Cup wasn't until 1965, and it took until 1974 before it made it. Famously, it would be another 32 years before the Qantas Socceroos would join the world's elite again.
The first World Cup qualification match was played in Phnom Penh against North Korea on November 21, 1965. It was a two-legged playoff with Australia losing the first match 6-1 and then the return leg three days later 3-1. Les Scheinflug holds the honour of scoring the first-ever goal for Australia in a World Cup qualifier with a 70th-minute penalty kick. North Korea would famously go on to make the quarter finals in the 1966 World Cup losing 5-3 to Portugal.
Australia's campaign for the 1970 World Cup saw the Qantas Socceroos knock out Japan, South Korea and Rhodesia. After playing three matches against Rhodesia in Mozambique, Australia travelled from the southern African nation straight to Israel for the next stage of an arduous qualification campaign. It lost 1-0 and then returned home to only manage a 1-1 result in Sydney, which ended the World Cup dream.
Playing With the Big Boys
Four years later under the guidance of coach Rale Rasic, Australia prevailed from the first stage of qualifying, winning a group that included New Zealand, Indonesia and Iraq. It then faced Iran home and away, winning the first leg in Sydney 3-0 before Iran won 2-0 in the second leg in Tehran. South Korea then awaited the Qantas Socceroos. Both matches ended in draws, prompting a hastily-arranged decider in Hong Kong. Jimmy Mackay scored the goal which booked Australia its place in the 1974 tournament.
Australia drew host West Germany, nearby East Germany and South American team Chile in a difficult Group 1. Its first match was against East Germany in Hamburg and Col Curran claimed an unwanted piece of history, becoming the first Australian to score in the World Cup finals - albeit for the other side. Australia lost that match 2-0 and backed up four days later against West Germany, losing 3-0. Against Chile in Berlin, Australia claimed its first World Cup point courtesy of a 0-0 draw.
The Beginning of the Exile
The path to the 1978 World Cup was a complicated one 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.
A simpler qualification path for the 1982 tournament proved no better for the Qantas Socceroos, who were outpointed by New Zealand 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 only World Cup until now.
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 1982 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 Qantas Socceroos tried desperately to get back into the tie, but could only manage a 0-0 draw.
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.
Falling at the Final Hurdle
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 Qantas 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
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 Qantas 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 Qantas 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.
Back in the Big League
The campaign for the 2006 World Cup began in Adelaide in May 2004 with the OFC Nations Cup, which doubled as Oceania's World Cup qualification. Australia defeated New Zealand, Fiji, Tahiti and Vanuatu but suffered a shock 3-3 draw with Solomon Islands. However, the Solomons would cause another upset, making it through to the final OFC qualifiers. Australia prevailed in the two-leg qualification tie in September 2005 9-1 on aggregate.
In a repeat of the match-up from four years earlier, Australia would need to get past Uruguay, with Dutch master Guus Hiddink brought in to help guide Australia back to the World Cup. This time the first match was in Montevideo and while the home side prevailed 1-0, the Qantas Socceroos were very much in the hunt for qualification. Mark Bresciano scored in the 35th minute of the return leg in Sydney, levelling the tie, but the two teams could not be separated even after extra time.
It would come down to a penalty shootout with Schwarzer proving the hero with two saves. John Aloisi stepped into Australian sporting folklore with the winning penalty, a moment of pure celebration for all fans of the round ball code in this country.
The Birth of a Legend
Back among the World Cup elite after 32 years, Australia was faced with Brazil, Japan and Croatia in its group in 2006. The fairytale continued to roll on in the group stages. Trailing 1-0 with fewer than 10 minutes left in the opening match against Japan in Kaiserslautern, it looked as if the World Cup dream would be over before it began.
But up stepped Tim Cahill, writing his place in history as the first player to score a goal for Australia at a World Cup. On 89 minutes, Cahill struck again to put Australia in front, while a stunning comeback was complete when Aloisi scored in injury time.
Brazil, the most dominant team in World Cup history and the defending World Cup champion, was next in Munich. A determined Australia was unlucky to lose 2-0, but a draw against Croatia would be enough to get through to the round of 16. The drama continued in the match in Stuttgart, with Croatia scoring in just the second minute. Craig Moore levelled things up before half-time thanks to a penalty, but a mistake from goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac allowed Croatia to take the lead again just over 30 minutes from time.
In a frantic finish, Australia peppered the Croatian goalkeeper with Harry Kewell scoring the crucial goal with just 11 minutes left. Referee Graham Poll infamously showed Croatian defender Josip Simunic three yellow cards, while he blew full time as Aloisi was about to give Australia victory, but it was all academic as the Qantas Socceroos progressed to the round of 16.
Italy and even more drama awaited in Kaiserslautern. With the match delicately poised at 0-0, Marco Materazzi would be sent off on 50 minutes, giving Australia a fantastic opportunity to progress to the final eight. But fate dealt the brave Aussies a cruel hand in the final minute of normal time with Lucas Neill and Fabio Grosso coming together in the box. The referee pointed to the spot and Francesco Totti would score the penalty which broke Australia's heart. Italy would go on to win the final.
Back Where We Belong
Australia's path to South Africa 2010 was through Asia for the first time. It meant that instead of relying on a one-off two-legged playoff once every four years, the Qantas Socceroos had to go through two group stages of Asian qualifying. The Qantas Socceroos got through a tricky opening group relatively comfortably, qualifying for the next stage along with Qatar.
The second group stage featured two groups of five nations, with the top two from each qualifying. Australia received a kind draw with only one other country in its group, Japan, having made the World Cup before. Wins away to Uzbekistan and home to Qatar put Australia in a strong position and when it drew 0-0 with Japan in Yokohama, they were in pole position to go through.
A home win over Uzbekistan then meant Australia needed only a draw away to Qatar to qualify. The Qantas Socceroos did that and became one of the first teams to book their place in the finals. Amazingly, they only conceded one goal in the final round of qualifying and celebrated their passage to South Africa with a 2-1 win over Japan in their final match of the group.
The Qantas Socceroos World Cup 2010 campaign got off to a disastrous start, however, as they were outclassed by a rampant Germany in Durban. Tim Cahill was sent off as Joachim Lowe-s vibrant young side put four past Mark Schwarzer, leaving Australia with everything to do in its final two group matches.
An early Brett Holman goal in the second match against Ghana looked to have steadied the ship, until a controversial Harry Kewell sending off changed the balance of the game. Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan scored from the resulting penalty and the game finished at 1-1, leaving Australia with everything to do in their final game.
Needing either Ghana to beat Germany, or Germany to thrash the Africans, the Qantas Socceroos took their destiny into their own hands with a battling display in a thrilling match against Serbia in Nelspruit. But goals from Tim Cahill and Brett Holman weren't enough, and Australia went out on goal difference.