Micallef: How the 1974 Socceroos raised eyebrows worldwide

The 1974 World Cup group match between Australia and East Germany was eagerly awaited by a group of friends as we waited for kickoff in a social club in Floriana, Malta. 

We all knew about the mean machines from the DDR that had taken mechanical football to the next level. 

What piqued our interest was this ‘exotic’ team from far Australia that was about to play in its first ever world championship of football.

We realised Australians were pretty strong in cricket, tennis and swimming but the round-ball game at the highest level was not something we could associate with the far away land.

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As the match at the old Volksparkstadion in Hamburg started it soon became apparent that these no-nonsense Socceroos were going to give Jurgen Sparwasser’s outfit a run for their money. 

Solid in defence, industrious in midfield and enterprising whenever possible in attack, the well-organised if cautious Australians raised more than a few eyebrows at the club.

They slowly won the patrons’ hearts with a commendable first-half performance and the goalless score at the interval came as no real surprise.

What had started as marginal interest soon developed into full-on support for the underdogs by the time the second period got under way.

Could the brave battlers from down under cause the tournament’s first shock result, we wondered?

Peter Wilson and his men, you see, were holding their own rather efficiently if not comfortably against far more experienced and credentialled opponents.

It was not to be, however. The Aussies’ resistance was broken just before the hour when Sparwasser ran into space and slipped the ball past goalkeeper Jack Reilly despite Col Curran’s attempt to clear on the line.

WATCH: Socceroos' first FIFA World Cup match in 1974 v East Germany

The Germans sealed the match with an exceptional half-volley from Joachim Streich after 71 minutes.

The Australians lost 2-0 and would bow out of the tournament after losing to hosts West Germany and earning a draw with Chile.

Yet the team had shown in no uncertain terms that it deserved to mix it with the best. They did not look out of place at the big dance.

I was not to know it then but my career would eventually take me to Australia where I got the opportunity to work with several Socceroos teams.

And my special bond with the green and gold all started when I watched them play on a black and white television on that summer evening in Malta almost half a century ago.

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