The most pulsating, dramatic, heart-stopping contest of a thrilling World Cup ended with Australia booking a last-16 meeting with Italy.
Harry Kewell's 79th-minute angled drive sent the Socceroos bouncing into the
knockout phase for the first time in their history.
Yet the mere scoreline does not even start to get close to explaining the
story behind a truly extraordinary game which Australia ended with 10 men and
Twice Australia were forced to come from behind to grab the precious point
they so desperately required after conceding initially in the second minute,
then at the start of the second period following a mistake to rank up with any
the competition had ever seen from recalled keeper Zeljko Kalac.
Yet, showing the same pugnacious spirit which has seen them become world
champion at so many sports, Australia simply refused to lie down.
Craig Moore pulled them level just before half-time when he kept his nerve to
fire home from the spot, then, after Australia had another clear spot-kick
appeal turned down by referee Graham Poll, Kewell drove home the goal which
blasted open the door to the second round.
Nobody celebrated the draw more enthusiastically than Australian coach Guus
Hiddink, who had almost seen the biggest gamble of his entire coaching career go
Hiddink stunned the Aussie support by bringing back Kalac, who spends his
winters sat on the AC Milan bench, ahead of established number one Mark
Kalac had barely touched the ball when he was picking it out of his own net, a
legacy of Mark Viduka's third-minute foul on Croatian captain Niko Kovac.
Up stepped Darijo Srna to stroke a 25-yard free-kick beyond Kalac and into the
For half an hour thereafter, Australia battered the Croatian defence for no
Tim Cahill, Mark Viduka and Kewell all wasted chances to equalise and
Australia were just starting to run out of ideas when Stjepan Tomas stuck up a
fist to deflect away a Brett Emerton cross.
Poll spotted the infringement and though the gap between the Premiership
official blowing his whistle and Moore stepping up to take the keep seemed to
last forever, the Newcastle man kept his cool to fire home.
Then came Kalac's abberation. Getting right behind a seemingly innocuous Kovac
strike, the keeper somehow managed to let the ball slip through his grasp and
into the net. With Schwarzer sat not five yards away, Hiddink must have wanted
the ground to open up and swallow him.
It was another shattering blow. Yet Australia refused to buckle. Time and
again they bashed away.
Another Tomas handball was missed by Poll, Kewell's shot was brilliantly
pushed over by Stipe Pletikosa, Cahill went agonisingly close.
But the goal that would not come eventually did. Marco Bresciano floating over
the right-wing cross which John Aloisi flicked into Kewell's path.
All Kewell's talent which is so inconsistently on show, did not fail him this
time. Control with the chest, finish on the volley. Easy as that.
Unfortunately, it was not quite that for Australia, who lived on their nerves
for those final 10 minutes.
Dario Simic and Brett Emerton were both red-carded as the action intensified.
Moore booted off the Australian line.
Amid the frenzy, even Poll lost his head, booking Melbourne-born Croat Josip
Simunic for a second and then a third time, before eventually brandishing red in
his face after the final whistle.
At the end, the Australian fans celebrated as they would any Ashes triumph or
rugby victory. On the biggest sporting stage of all, the most sports-mad nation
has finally arrived.