WORLD CUP: Team profile – australia (group f)

For Australia the long wait is over. After 32 years the Socceroos will return to Germany, scene of their one previous FIFA World Cup finals appearance in 1974, for the 2006 edition of the tournament after beating Uruguay 4-2 on penalties in the second leg of the intercontinental play-off at Sydney’s Telstra Stadium.

Substitute John Aloisi converted the decisive spot-kick to send them through after goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer had produced superb saves to deny Dario Rodriguez and Marcelo Zalayeta, as Australia finally savoured success in a play-off after four previous failures. Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, Marco Bresciano had drawn Australia level on aggregate with a 34th-minute goal before Guus Hiddink’s side held their nerve in the climactic shoot-out to book their ticket to Germany.

The initial preliminary rounds were a relatively straightforward task for the Socceroos. In Oceania’s group stage they finished top with four wins and one draw from their five matches. The play-off to decide who would meet South America’s fourth-placed side for a place at Germany 2006 was also a formality as they defeated the Solomon Islands 9-1 over two legs to set up the decisive match with Uruguay. Australia’s qualification triumph is another landmark for their Dutch coach Hiddink. Brought on board in the summer of 2005, following the departure of Frank Farina, the man who led Korea Republic to the semi-finals of the last FIFA World Cup has produced another act of alchemy, helping Australian football erase the pain of previous play-off defeats in 1985, 1993, 1997 and 2001.

England is the preferred destination for the vast majority of the stars of the Socceroos’ qualifying campaign with Schwarzer, Lucas Neill, Tim Cahill, Mark Viduka, Craig Moore, Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton all currently playing Premier League football. Aloisi and Bresciano are in Spain and Italy respectively, but at the moment all Aussie eyes are currently turning to another European country — namely Germany.

For the fans, bittersweet memories of 1974 will be evoked. On that occasion Australia met Chile, German DR and Germany FR in the group stages — and failed to score a single goal. They will also want to do better than their showing in the FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005 when they failed to win a single match. However, with Hiddink at the helm, hopes are high. With one dream already realised for Australia, another is just beginning.