Australia at the World Cup
The Australian national football team, known as the Socceroos, has played in the finals of the World Cup five times, with the most recent appearance coming in 2018 in Russia.
Up until 2007 Australia was part of the Oceania confederation, along with New Zealand and several smaller nations. It’s easily the weakest confederation in world football, and so doesn’t get a lot of love from FIFA in terms of World Cup qualification spots. Hence the playoffs. Which is why Australia lobbied to move and join the Asian confederation, a goal that was finally achieved in 2007.
Below is the story of their World Cup appearances, plus the frustrating period where they continually fell at the final hurdle.
1974 World Cup in West Germany
Australia qualified for the ‘74 Weltmeisterschaft after coming through a qualification process that merged the Oceania and Asia confederations. In their first World Cup, the Socceroos were drawn into Group 1 with West Germany, East Germany and Chile. In three games they lost 2-0 to East Germany, 3-0 to West Germany and drew 0-0 with Chile. So bottom of the group, one point and precisely zero goals scored.
The squad was managed by the 38 year old Serbian born (but Australia committed) Ralé Rašić, captained by English born defender Peter Wilson, and featured midfielder and Australian soccer legend Johnny Warren (the current A-League player of the year award is called the Johnny Warren Medal). It’s tough to argue that 1974 was a full on success given the lack of goals. But given the fact that many of the squad were not full professionals, a draw against Chile is nothing to be ashamed of. There’s a website titled The Southern Cross which puts a very detailed and very positive spin on the Socceroos adventure in West Germany, particularly in terms of how the squad represented their country. Australia lost 3-0 to the hosts.
One of the other highlights of the 1974 campaign was Socceroos super-fan Jim Scane, featured in this Sydney Morning Herald news story from 2006. Scane was born in England but emigrated to Australia, and followed the team devoutly.
At the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, Scane carried a koala bear under each arm acted as the team mascot (leading the Socceroos out at every game) and also interpreter (having learned German while a World War II P.O.W. at Dunkirk). Scane wore a gold jacket (pictured) with the names of Australia’s opponents on it, ready to cross the names off as the Socceroos beat each team. He’d have to wait until 2006 to see Australia’s first World Cup win though.
World Cup Playoff Frustrations 1975-2005
Australia’s frustrations with the Oceania confederation were there for all to see in 1994, 1998 and 2002. In each of these campaigns Australia dominated Oceania but then had to face a tougher opponent from a different confederation in a two-legged World Cup qualification playoff.
In qualification for the 1994 World Cup, Australia won a playoff against Canada but then had a further playoff vs Diego Maradona’s Argentina. The Socceroos managed a 1-1 draw at home, but lost 1-0 in Argentina. Close, but not quite.
In qualification for the 1998 World Cup (with Terry Venables in charge) the Australia faced Iran in the playoff. The Socceroos got an excellent 1-1 draw in Iran, and led 2-0 at home. But Iran scored two late goals to make it 3-3 on aggregate, with Australia losing out on away goals. Harsh.
In qualification for the 2002 World Cup, manager Frank Farina oversaw the Socceroos demolition of Oceania opposition, including a ridiculous 31-0 win over American Samoa. But once again they fell short in the playoff game, this time against Uruguay. A 1-0 win at homes was followed by a 3-0 loss in Uruguay. Australia missed out again.
They finally cracked it in time for the 2006 World Cup. With Guus Hiddink in charge they faced Uruguay (again) and after trading 1-0 wins and doing plenty if arguing over kick off time, Australia won a penalty shootout in Sydney. It was a Mark Schwarzer save sent Australia to their second ever World Cup after years of disappointment.
World Cup 2006 in Germany
A full 32 years after their first appearance, Australia were back in Germany and back in the World Cup. This time they were a much more experienced and soccer savvy outfit, with Guus Hiddink no stranger to World Cups, and much of the squad (like Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill and captain Mark Viduka) playing regularly in the English Premier League or elsewhere in Europe. The draw wasn’t necessarily kind though, landing the Socceroos in Group F with champions Brazil, Croatia and Japan.
It started badly, with Japan going ahead through a questionable goal. Nakamura’s cross sailed straight in as keeper Mark Schwarzer was impeded by a Japanese player, but the referee let it stand. Australia looked like losing that game and blaming the referee, until an incredible final few minutes that turned the whole World Cup campaign around. Tim Cahill equalised in the 84th and put Australia ahead in the 89th before John Aloisi scored the Socceroos third in the second minute of time added on. Dramatic stuff. This is how the Socceroos three goals were broadcast by Australia’s SBS television:
In the second game, Australia held Brazil 0-0 for the first 45 minutes, but eventually lost 2-0. So it all came down to the game vs Croatia, where avoiding defeat would send the Socceroos through to the Second Round.
It was an insane game, not least the moment when Graham Poll showed Croatia’s Josep Simunic three yellow cards. The match finished 2-2, which was good enough to send Australia through to the Second Round for the first time.
In the Socceroos first ever World Cup Second Round game, they went toe to toe with Italy for 90+ minutes. Absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. But with stoppage time about to expire, disaster struck.
There’s still debate about whether Fabio Grosso dived or not, but he won’t be on many Christmas card lists in Australia. This much is certainly true: Lucas Neill made a clumsy tackle and Fabio Gross went down. Francesco Totti stepped up and put the 95th minute penalty away to send Australia home and Italy on the way to World Cup glory.
The excellent ending to this story involves Jim Scane. The Socceroos superfan passed away in 2008 at the grand old age of 91, but in 2006 – 32 years after World Cup ‘74 – Scane was invited to travel to Germany where he and his grandson saw Australia’s incredible come from behind 3-1 win vs Japan.
2010 World Cup in South Africa
Australia was drawn in the fabled group of death (Group D) which also featured Germany, Ghana and Serbia. The Socceroos went agonisingly close to one of the most momentous moments in football down under, finishing third behind Germany and Ghana, who were also on four points, but had a superior goal difference. This team featured some of the greats of Australian football including Mark Schwarzer, Lucas Neill, Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton. It was managed by respected Dutch mentor Pim Verbeek.
The Socceroos opened their account with a 0-4 thrashing at the hands of Germany, but it was not a true indication of the ability of this outfit, with their best performances yet to come. Two first half goals to Germany had the game iced and the heavily pro Aussie crowd in Durban were wishing they were somewhere else. There were no real highlights for the Socceroos in this game with Lukas Podolski being crowned man of the match for the Germans.
The Socceroos game two ended in a 1-1 draw against Ghana in a match full of merit for the Aussies. They got off to a flyer when Brett Holman scored in the 11th minute but disaster struck when Kewell was red-carded in the 24th minute with Asamoah Gyan converting to equal the scores. The Socceroos ended up doing well to hold on for a draw and give themselves a sniff of making it past the group stage. This was the game that got away for the Socceroos and ultimately cost them further success.
The most complete game of the tournament for the Socceroos came on the back of a Cahill man-of-the-match performance, when they upset Serbia 2-1. In the opening half of the game there were no goals, but the dynamics of the game changed in the second half when Cahill scored in the 69th minute. Holman’s great tournament continued in the 73rd minute to make it 2-0. The Serbs got one back in the 84th minute, but there was little to be gained for either team in this contest with both teams failing to progress. The Socceroos had made a little history at this tournament and football has gone from strength-to-strength since.
2014 World Cup in Brazil
The Socceroos World Cup history expanded further at the Brazil World Cup in 2014. Australia again drew a disastrous group in the World Cup finals, with reigning champion Spain, runner up the Netherlands and Chile rounding out the teams. The Socceroos lost every game despite some good performances with Netherland and Chile eventually advancing from this group. The team was coached by Ange Postecoglou and captained by Mile Jedinak and featured Tim Cahill and Marcus Brescianio with many of the players from the golden era retiring after the 2010 campaign.
In the opening match of the tournament Chile defeated the Socceroos 3-1 to put a dampener on the Aussies chances of advancing from the group stage. It genuinely appeared that the big stage got the better of the Socceroos in this game and they were down 2-0 in the opening 15 minutes. The Socceroos managed to peg one back through a Cahill header before half-time and went desperately close to equalising in the second half. Late in the game Chilean bench player Jean Beausejour put the result beyond doubt after the ball bounced off keeper Mathew Ryan. Remarkably it was the third World Cup that Cahill had scored at – putting him in rarefied territory.
The Socceroos next took on the Netherlands and Arjen Robben put the favourites in front in the 20th minute. Just a minute later the brilliant Cahill equalised and things were looking up for the Socceroos when Mile Jedinak converted a penalty to put them in-front 2-1, but eventually the class of the Dutch team was too much, with Robin Van Persie and Memphis Depay scoring within 10 minutes of each other to give them a 3-2 victory. Another game Aussie fans believe they were hard done by in.
2018 World Cup in Russia
Australia entered the 2018 World Cup with minimal expectations and, of course, received a favourable draw which past Socceroos teams would have made it past the group stage. However the Socceroos really lacked any A grade talent and were rocked by Postecoglou quitting as manager just weeks before the team was due to begin its campaign with Dutchman Bert Van Marmijk agreeing to take the team to Russia. Drawn in Group D with France, Denmark and Peru the Aussies failed to win any games but several youngsters like Daniel Arzani received valuable playing time and ultimately found himself with a European contract. Veteran Tim Cahill spent most of the tournament on the pine, much to the frustration of Australian fans, who believed we could have sorely done with his fire power up front.
The Socceroos opened their campaign against France and gave a good showing and were well in contention at half time, but again the controversial VAR review system claimed its first victim when referee Andres Cunha had his decision overturned and the French were awarded a penalty, going up 1-0. Soon after Socceroos captain and penalty specialist Mile Jedinak scored a penalty of his own to even up the game. But young French star Paul Pogba lobbed a ball which deflected off Aussie fullback Aziz Behich to give them a 2-1 lead in the 81st minute, which ultimately proved the winner.
The Socceroos next took on Denmark with the match ending in a 1-1 draw and kept their chances of making it past the group stage alive. In an eventful opening few minutes the Socceroos and Denmark both blew golden opportunities to score, with Christian Eriksen eventually putting the European team in front in the seventh minute. Just before the break the Socceroos were awarded a penalty and Jedinak coolly slotted the equaliser. Despite the Socceroos having plenty of chances in the second half, including some flashy play from Arzani, the match fizzled out into a draw.
In their first ever meeting and the Socceroos final match in Russia, Australia was beaten 2-0 by a much slicker Peru outfit, in a match many pundits thought they could win. But goals to Peru in the 18th minute to Andre Carillo and 50th minute to captain Paolo Guerrero sunk the Socceroos slim chances of advancing through the group stage. While the group was close it was France and Denmark who advanced through the group stages and continued the Socceroos run of outs in the World Cup finals, having not won a game since their 2010 victory against Serbia. It also continued the Aussies horror record against the flamboyant South American teams. Soon after the Word Cup the Socceroos appointed homegrown mentor Graham Arnold as manager.
2022 World Cup in Qatar
Australia is on track to quality for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, although many matches in the Asian Football Confederation were pushed back in 2020 and 2021 because of the covid-19 pandemic.
The Socceroos preparation has been less than ideal, with very few Australians playing in the English Premier League or even in Europe. This has seen them blow out with Australian online bookmakers, being priced at $251 to win the tournament.
The 2022 World Cup will see the 32 best football nations lock horns, before the tournament is expanded to 48 teams in 2026. The 2026 tournament will be played in North America.