Ahead of the Socceroos Qatar World Cup qualifiers against Oman and Japan next month, it’s time for a trip down memory lane. From our Asian Cup triumph in 2015, to our record-breaking win over American Samoa in 2001, here are the top 10 Socceroos moments in history.
2015 Asian Cup title
It is by far and away the Socceroos' greatest ever moment. A trophy on home soil, delivered by a home-grown manager in Ange Postecoglou. The victory was made even sweeter by beating tournament favourites, and arguably Asia’s best team at the time, South Korea.
Australia started their campaign with routine victories over Kuwait and Oman, before losing 1-0 to Korea to round out the group stage. Knockout round victories over China and UAE meant Australia would face the Koreans again, but in the tournament decider. Despite boasting Premier League stars Ki Sung-Yueng and Son Heung-Min, the two-time Asian Cup winners were no match for the Aussies. Goals to Massimo Luongo and James Troisi secured the victory and Australia’s first major piece of silverware.
World Cup win over Japan
Football is a results business, so it was only fair Australia’s next biggest victory came in at number two. Who can forget this one? A double to Socceroos all-time leading goal scorer Tim Cahill, Australia’s first ever goals in a World Cup, plus one to the legendary John Aloisi, clinched us three very memorable points. It was a match 32 years in the making, made even sweeter by the drama and heartache of failing to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. Japan claimed an early 26th minute lead through Shunsuke Nakamura and looked set to hold on as the match entered the final 10 minutes. But, Australia’s grit and determination prevailed as Cahill’s quickfire brace, and Aloisi’s injury time sealer flipped the tie on its head. It proved to be Guus Hiddink’s finest moment as Socceroos boss, and Australia's greatest moment until 2015.
Reaching the World Cup for the first time in 1974
Somehow, some way, a team of predominantly part-time players from all ends of the country, took their place as one of the worlds top 16 nations in Germany, for the 1974 FIFA World Cup. With legendary coach Rale Rasic at the helm, Australia were drawn in one of the tougher groups of the tournament.
A 2-0 opening match loss to West Germany was followed up by a 3-0 defeat to eventual winners East Germany, who fielded German football royalty Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Mueller and Ui Hoeness. A 0-0 draw with Chile rounded out the group stage and tournament, in what proved to be our first and only World Cup for 32 years. The 1974 campaign unearthed the first set of Australian football heroes like Rasic, Johnny Warren and Harry Williams, the first Indigenous Australian to play at a World Cup.
Qualifying for World Cup in 2005
Relief. Joy. Disbelief. After 32 long years, the Socceroos were finally back at the FIFA World Cup. And wasn’t it dramatic. After faltering against Uruguay at the final hurdle in 2001, the story of 2005 would be a story of revenge and retribution. Australia were pegged against Uruguay at the final stage of World Cup qualifying once again in 2005, and the equation was simple: win and Germany 2006 awaits. The tie came down to the second leg, hosted at Sydney Football Stadium in front of 83,000 screaming fans.
A scoreless 120 minutes ensued, meaning the match would have to be settled on penalties. Two saves from Socceroos great Mark Schwarzer gave John Aloisi the chance to be immortalised, and he didn’t falter. Australia were through to their first World Cup finals in 32 years, serendipitously back in Germany, like that of 1974. That night in 2005 will forever be a “where were you” moment for Australian football fans.
World cup win over Serbia
Plenty of chatter ahead of the 2010 World Cup was about the ball itself, the Jabulani, and one Australian certainly made it talk. Needing a victory in our final group stage match against Serbia to have any hope of qualifying to the knockout rounds, Tim Cahill and Brett Holman stepped up within four minutes of each other to put Serbia to the sword. 2-0 is how it finished, with the match best remembered for Holman’s spectacular long range effort that left Serbian keeper Vladimir Stojkovic stranded. Having lost to Germany 4-0 in our opening group game, Australia bowed out of the group stages on goal difference despite registering a win and a draw (against Ghana) in the group.
Tim Cahill’s goal vs Netherlands in 2014
Possibly the greatest individual moment by an Australian footballer in modern history. Just seconds after Dutch legend Arjen Robben put the Oranje ahead in the tie, Tim Cahill stepped up to smash home a left foot volley from a long Mathew Leckie diagonal ball. It was a moment when time stood still.
How has Cahill just done that? It was as audacious as they get. Slow-mo cameras captured the killer look on Cahill’s face as he watched the ball onto his left boot. It was the shining moment for Australia in an otherwise forgetful World Cup tournament, going down to the Netherlands, Spain and Chile in the group stages.
Australia L16 match v Italy
This may be seen as somewhat controversial, but the significance of the match cannot be understated. The Socceroos, in their first World Cup finals for 32 years, finished second in Group F behind Brazil to progress to the Round of 16 where they met eventual winners, Italy. The result is not a memorable one for Australia, of course not, but it is arguably the biggest match the men’s national team has ever played. Everyone remembers the late drama: Francesco Totti slotting a 95th minute penalty following a defensive mistake from Lucas Neill. Cruel is an understatement. Debate will forever rage as to whether the decision to award Italy the penalty was just, but one thing is for sure regardless, that match and moment put Australia on the world stage like never before.
2001 FIFA Confederations Cup campaign
In amongst Australia’s 32-year struggle to qualify for the World Cup, there were some other smaller triumphs worth mentioning. None more so than Australia’s 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup campaign. Now defunct, the Confederations Cup was contested by the holders of each of the six continental championships (AFC, CAF, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, OFC, and UEFA), along with the FIFA World Cup champions and next host nation. In 2001, that cohort was made up of South Korea, Japan, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, France and Australia. The Socceroos finished third out of that group of eight, beating Brazil 1-0 in the third placed playoff match. It’s no World Cup, but any Australian football fan would crave something of that ilk today.
31-0 win over American Samoa
In what proved to be a world-record shattering day, the Socceroos claimed a 31-0, yes 31-0 win over American Samoa in phase one of qualifying for the 2002 World Cup. The result broke the world record for the largest victory in an international football match. It’s important to note, at the time Australia were competing in the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC), a federation made up of many island nations north of Australia. This result prompted many in Australian football to push to join the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), in search of more competitive football. Melbourne Victory legend Archie Thompson finished with 13 goals for the match, breaking the world record for most goals scored by an individual in a match.
Friendly victory over England in 2004
Wayne Rooney’s England debut was certainly memorable, but maybe not for the right reasons if you’re English. The Socceroos stunned the Three Lions in a 2003 friendly at Upton Park in London, thanks to goals from Harry Kewell, Tony Popovic and Brett Emerton. Shocking was an understatement at the time, and still is today. England were fielding a star-studded side, packed full of Golden Generation stars like Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen and Frank Lampard. The night proved to be former Socceroos coach Frank Farina’s crowning moment as national team boss: the first and only manager to guide Australia to victory over England.
There have been many amazing moments in Australian football over the years, so condensing them into a shortlist of 10 was always going to be difficult. From our trailblazing World Cup heroes of 1974, to our Golden Generation superstars of 2006, to our 2015 Asian Cup champions, there is no shortage of stories worthy of remembering.