100 Years of Football Stories: The Shootout

The rising tension among the 82,698 crowd at Telstra Australia reached breaking point when Australia and Uruguay were forced to settle their World Cup playoff in 2005 via a penalty shootout, football’s version of Russian roulette.

Both teams were level at one goal each after two legs. 

The prize was not just a spot in the tournament in Germany, 32 long years since the Socceroos had reached their first finals.

At stake was the very future of the game in Australia that had launched its first professional league three months earlier. 

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Home expectations were huge as both teams went to penalties after 120 gruelling minutes. 

Penalty shootouts are sporting lotteries that can turn ordinary players into stars and heroes into zeroes.   

Yet the odds were stacked against Australia. How could they possibly overcome such battle-hardened warriors as Uruguay in the ultimate street fight: a winner-takes-all shootout to the death where nerves of steel are the key?

I was seated in the press box during the match proper but I chose to join the fervent crowd to get a real feel of the atmosphere surrounding the most important match played in Australia in decades. Nobody was sitting.

WATCH: Simon Hill & Craig Foster recount famous Socceroos v Uruguay commentary

The shootout started very well for Australia. Harry Kewell put away the first kick and Mark Schwarzer saved Dario Rodriguez’s effort.

Lucas Neill, Gustavo Varela, Tony Vidmar and Fabian Estoyanoff easily put away their penalties before Mark Viduka had the chance to make it 4-2 for the Socceroos.

But the captain’s tentative shot trickled past Fabian Carini’s upright, much to the despair of the crowd, goodness knows how many television viewers and multiple newsrooms around the country. 

Was it going to be yet another heart-breaking failure? Surely, not again.

Then came two moments that would seal the tie and give the game in Australia a massive boost.

Marcelo Zalayeta hit a firm rising shot that Schwarzer saved with his right palm to keep the score at 3-2.

Which meant that the Socceroos would reach the promised land if John Aloisi converted the next penalty.

It is history now how the striker etched his name in Australian sporting folklore by steering the ball home to set off an explosion of unbridled joy among the boisterous crowd.

Absolute mayhem ensued and while I was hugged and kissed by complete strangers my newspaper editor said he was expecting a full story on the shootout and I did not have too much time to write it.

It was not hard to come up with the right words to describe such a draining yet unforgettable night for Australian football.

Our much loved Socceroos had delivered a feel-good story for the ages and sheer adrenalin did the job for me. 

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