By Kosta Diamantopoulos
It was the 16th November 2005 and as already-qualified teams were preparing and selecting their squads for the 18th edition of the FIFA World Cup, there was a match with it all on the line as a working-class Australian side faced South American stars Uruguay.
The return fixture kicked off with Uruguay holding a 1-0 advantage from the first leg, Dario Rodriguez’s 37th minute volley from an in-swinging Alvaro Recoba free kick proving the difference.
But on home turf at Stadium Australia in Sydney, with 82,698 loud and passionate fans behind them, the playing field had suddenly levelled.
The aggregate winners would see their nation officially qualify for the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany.
Guus Hiddink made two changes from the first leg, with Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano coming in to replace Harry Kewell and Archie Thompson.
Jorge Fossati, meanwhile, lined his visitors up in a more conservative 5-4-1, with Villarreal star Diego Forlan missing out through injury. Striker Marcelo Zayaleta would have to content himself with a place on the bench, as the towering Richard Morales was this time deployed as a lone frontman. It was sure to be another tight and unpredictable affair.
The emphatic crowd created a raucous atmosphere, but there was one specific chant that trumped all: the famous “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.”
With Australia under pressure early, Hiddink made a brave tactical change, replacing defender Tony Popovic with Kewell – sporting his infamous two ponytails – in the 32nd minute.
Kewell provided a near-perfect performance, completing 100% of his tackles whilst also providing two key passes, five key dribbles, and one dangerous shot.
And it was Kewell’s endeavour that led to the breakthrough, latching on to a deft backheel from Mark Viduka. His resulting miskick – or was it a dummy? – fell fortuitously into the path of Bresciano, who thumped the ball into the roof of the net to level the tie.
Following his well-taken 36th minute finish, Bresciano performed his trademark “centurion” celebration, as he scored and stood as still and straight as possible.
Teammates swarmed him after what seemed like an eternity and one could only imagine what the Australian legend saw in those few seconds post-equaliser.
The first half saw Uruguay hold the dominant possession percentage with 60% to 40%, whilst the second half combined with extra time saw Australia edge with 55% to 45%.
From early in the first half the match was played with aggression and determination as both sides accumulated 60 fouls, Australia committing 31 fouls and Uruguay 29.
Yellow cards were given to Popovic, Tony Vidmar, Carlos Diogo, Mario Regueiro, Jason Culina, Dario Rodriguez, Pablo Garcia and Kewell.
The game was played with many one on one battles throughout as both sides attempted to win the mental match-up.
Scott Chipperfield and Gustavo Varela clashed multiple times throughout the match with Chipperfield getting the better of his counterpart, tackling him successfully four times.
Ricardo Morales and Gustavo Varela were clearly struggling to outwit Chipperfield, as Uruguayan frustration was prominent in the first half, causing a delegated staff member to be sent to the stands.
Paolo Montero positioned himself well to intercept three of Kewell’s dangerous low-crosses in the second half keeping his side in the game.
Known as Uruguay’s greatest asset, Alvaro Recoba found himself consistently pressured by multiple Australian players when in possession of the ball.
The Inter Milan playmaker’s main threat was being the passing specialist of the match as he found himself striking a dangerous dead-ball seven times and provided his teammates with 5 key passes.
Uruguay’s main tactic throughout the match involved the right flank, as Recoba, Varela, Diogo and Morales were all utilising one-two passes, which were ultimately disrupted by Australia’s jarring defensive performance.
Bresciano was replaced by John Aloisi in extra time after completing 13 unsuccessful forward passes.
Chipperfield proved to be Australia’s most prolific defender as he accumulated 11 interceptions and tackles, the most on the pitch.
Diego Lugano and Lucas Neil were also great defensive assets for their respective sides as they both collected eight defensive contributions each.
Uruguay goalkeeper Fabian Carini was one of his side’s stand-out players as he made a total of ten saves whilst also catching 13 Australian set pieces.
Mark Schwarzer ignited 6 pacey counterattacks with saves followed by throwing distributions to midfield teammates. The goalkeeper finished the 120 minutes with eight total saves.
And after two hours of unbearable tension, it would be Schwarzer who proved the hero as the tie was decided on penalties.
Fabian Estoyanoff and Varela both scored for Uruguay whilst Marcelo Zalayeta and Dario Rodriguez saw their shots brilliantly saved by the Australian goalkeeper.
And despite captain Mark Viduka skewing his effort wide, Schwarzer’s heroics gave John Aloisi the chance to send the Socceroos to their first World Cup Finals in 32 years.
Aloisi obliged with a beautiful strike into the top-right corner, sending the home crowd into ecstasy, and Australia to Germany.