Australia in the FIFA World Cup
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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 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.
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.
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 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 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 Socceroos had to go through two group stages of Asian qualifying. The 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 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 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 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.
The Road to Brazil
Australia regrouped over the next six months under new coach Holger Osieck to enjoy a fantastic AFC Asian Cup in January 2011.
The Socceroos improved on their quarter-final finish four years earlier to storm into the final, but a brilliant strike by Tadanari Lee gave Japan the trophy with a 1-0 win.
The campaign for Brazil 2014 began later that year, after a famous 2-1 friendly win over Germany in March. Facing Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Oman, the Aussies sealed qualification in their first phase of qualifiers and moved into the final round of AFC qualifiers where they drew Japan, Iraq and Oman. Here, the top two in the group would automatically qualify for Brazil 2014.
The campaign began in June 2012 and ended a year later when Josh Kennedy headed home at ANZ Stadium, against Iraq, to confirm a third World Cup qualification in a row (and fourth in total).
A few months later and after heavy losses to France and Brazil, Socceroo coach Holger Osieck departed the role to be replaced by Melbourne Victory coach Ange Postecoglou. He began his tenure with a 1-0 friendly victory over Costa Rica in Sydney as a new era kicked off. A 3-4 loss to Ecuador in March, 2014 in London showed plenty of promise as the team’s preparations for Brazil 2014 ramped up.
Tough task in South America
Australia arrived in Brazil with the odds firmly stacked against them as they faced established powerhouses Spain, the Netherlands and Chile at the group stage.
Fifteen minutes into their first Group B match against Chile and the Socceroos found themselves 2-0 down, similar to their experience four years earlier when mighty Germany had raced into a two-goal lead 26 minutes in to the opening match.
The style employed by Ange Postecoglou's side was noticeably different to that of 2014, though, and the team's fast-paced, aggressive football soon paid dividends, with Tim Cahill popping up with a trademark header to put his side back into the game before half time.
An injury-time strike to the South Americans ended Australia’s resistance, but the performance gave hope as they looked towards the Netherlands.
The Dutch had just thumped defending world champions Spain 5-1 but Australia stuck to their plan in their next match and poured forward, attacking with relish and creating numerous problems for their opponents.
Arjen Robben opened the scoring for the Oranje against the run of play in the 20th minute but Cahill responded 60 seconds later with one of the greatest goals in Socceroos history.
The striker got on the end of a Ryan McGowan long, diagonal cross and thumped home an inch-perfect volley off the underside of the crossbar leaving goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen shell-shocked.
Half-an-hour later the Aussie contingent in Porto Alegre had something else to cheer about, as captain Mile Jedinak firmly dispatched a penalty following a Daryl Janmaat handball on 54 minutes.
Subsequent strikes from Robin van Persie and Memphis Depay saw the Dutch nab the three points but the Socceroos could hold their heads high having gone toe-to-toe with one of the favourites for the cup.
By the time the final game against Spain rolled around neither side could progress to the knockout stages.
The world champions ran out 3-0 winners in an entertaining clash, but Ange Postecoglou’s men had shown that they were a team on the up, capable of taking on the best in the world.
En route to Russia
Before Australia began their journey to Russia 2018 there was the small matter of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup on home soil.
After finishing second in their group, the Socceroos surged all the way to the final where they defeated Korea Republic 2-1 after extra time in Sydney.
Goals from Massimo Luongo and James Troisi sealed the famous result as Australia were crowned kings of Asia.
Postecoglou’s side carried that title into AFC Qualification, where they comfortably topped their group in the first phase.
The third and final round of qualifying would present some challenges to the Socceroos, who were placed in a tough group alongside Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Thailand and the UAE.
Despite only one defeat (2-0 to Japan), draws with Saudi Arabia, Japan, Iraq and Thailand meant that Australia would finish in third place, pipped on goal difference by Saudi Arabia for automatic qualification.
That meant the Socceroos would face Syria over two legs for the chance to qualify through the inter-confederation playoffs, with a 1-1 draw in Malaysia serving as the away fixture.
The second leg was played at ANZ Stadium and after going a goal down early on it was the now 37-year-old Tim Cahill who put his name in lights once again, netting twice to secure a dramatic passage through to the playoffs.
Drawn against the CONCACAF representatives, Honduras, the Socceroos fought out a 0-0 stalemate in San Pedro Sula before an emphatic Mile Jedinak hat-trick sealed a 3-1 aggregate win, and with it a place at the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018™.
With Ange Postecoglou departing in late 2017, experienced Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk took the reins on an interim basis, charged with preparing the team for Russia 2018.
Australia was drawn in another tough group, alongside Denmark, Peru and eventual winners France, but were confident of being in the mix for the knockout stages.
The Socceroos were unlucky to go down 2-1 to the French in their opening Group C encounter, as VAR was used for the first time at a FIFA World Cup.
Les Bleus were awarded a penalty following video review, after Josh Risdon’s sliding challenge on Antoine Griezmann was ruled to have been a foul, and the striker made no mistake from the resulting spot-kick.
Jedinak equalised from the penalty spot after Australia were awarded one of their own for handball, but a late strike from Paul Pogba denied the Socceroos a deserved point.
Next up was Denmark and the sides could not be split after 90 minutes, with Christian Eriksen’s well-taken half-volley in the seventh minute cancelled out by another Jedinak penalty.
A do-or-die clash with Peru awaited the team in Green and Gold but it was not to be as the South Americans scored either side of half-time to come away with a 2-0 win and end Australia’s hopes of replicating their 2006 progression.
Shortly after the FIFA World Cup ended, former Australia international Graham Arnold took his place as full-time coach for the second time and turned his attention to steering the team to another appearance on the world’s biggest stage, at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.