The Socceroos have booked their place at next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil after a nervy 1-0 win over Iraq on Tuesday night. The home town crowd in Sydney had to endure an intense match where only a win could guarantee them qualification.
The game was only two minutes old before a golden opportunity presented itself to Tim Cahill, but the Iraq keeper made a fantastic reflex save to keep Australia out and set the tone for most of the game.
Coach Holger Osieck looked to have adopted a slightly negative tactic to dictate the game by allowing Iraq to have possession deep in their own half by dropping off in the front third instead of taking the game to the visitors.
It was like that for most of the first half with sporadic openings to attack for either team, but neither could capitalise. Iraq for their part were stoic throughout and were always going to be a potential threat but it was Australia’s inefficiency and cautious approach that would need to be addressed at half time.
The half time team talk seemed to do the trick as the home team were playing at a higher tempo that seemed to have Iraq on the back foot. But a dangerous counter-attack that threatened to ruin proceedings had them back in their shell and as time ticked on the tension and nerves started to build.
The introduction of Tom Rogic lifted the Socceroos and three threatening possessions in two minutes had Iraq on alert. Then came the game changing substitutions. Tim Cahill came off for Josh Kennedy and minutes later Archie Thompson came on for Robbie Kruse.
In sport, as in life, timing is everything: if Osieck had taken a less impressive Kruse off first, it would have provided a smoother transition into the much-needed restructuring necessary for the all important goal instead of avoiding a period of uncertainty and potential disaster for the Socceroos.
As the clock ticked down the tension grew and in the 84th minute a precision cross from Mark Bresciano found the head of Kennedy whose goal nearly lifted the roof off the packed stadium and cued celebrations for those in green and gold.
The nerves continued as the remaining minutes felt like hours for the Socceroos, but victory did come and the celebrations started to unfold with Peter Allen’s “I go to Rio” blaring in the background as players and fans revelled in the occasion.
It was another special night for Australian sport and the nation as the Socceroos bring us the latest instalment of memories. As this brand continues to develop, next year’s special venue will have many Australians attending an event they had never expected to experience in their lifetime.
Australia 1 (Josh Kennedy 84th’)
Man of the match: Mark Milligan