Fifteen years ago, a penalty shootout which changed everything. Won in the most dramatic of circumstances, our moment of legitimacy shall not be beaten.
When I started to get into football, I called it soccer. My educatory years rolled to the calendar of the World Cup, and I did so, as an engaged neutral. Which made no sense, but what was I to do? Miss out? The country that I was from was absent. So, I watched it religiously as an agnostic, believing but disbelieving. And so, the World Cup didn’t grasp my important organs in the way that I’ve seen it in everyone else, whisked on the maelstrom of emotion, souls in the hands of a select few millionaires.
I envied that feeling, and I felt cheated.
Previous to us joining Asia (and making qualification easier, and eventually, the bare minimum), our qualification campaign was a dramatic, albeit hollow pursuit. We’d pants our pacific neighbours at the regional sporting barbeque, only to have the showboating South American family from three streets over, wrest control of the tongs as they cooked the meat their way. Marinated in Joga Bonito and seasoned with our cynical disappointment.
Which brings me to 2005.
Everyone has their own story of that night, completely prosaic and irrelevant to others who weren’t floating in the moment with you. I was in an apartment, watching with a satellite friend who I no longer know (Hi Fred!) completely sober.
The shootout is the Kennedy assassination to me, I can recall every detail, and if I linger too much on it, it makes me feel giddy downstairs. If I watch the footage, I break out in goosebumps. Which I admit is cliché, but it’s a good cliché.
After 240 Minutes of muscled deadlock, it would come down to chance. The same chance that has dismantled greater footballing powers than ours (*cough* England), but memories of the night remain stark.
Craig Foster’s annoying pompous tone, pleasant. Harry Kewell’s rubbish double-ponytail, fashionable. The wash of shifting nervous wattle behind the goal, beautiful.
It didn’t matter, there or at home, we were linked. A feeling not tangible, nothing we could touch, but we could all feel.
Top left, 1-0. Onya Harry.
Rodriguez, SAVED! Release the goosebumps. Schwarzer, aside the post, roaring, beating his massive frame like King Kong with male-pattern baldness. His enthusiasm spurred Craig Foster to abandon his cultured tone, reducing his station to that out-of-shape relationship of yours who knows everything, daring Schwarzer to repeat the dose.
But, one lazy local miscue and the doubt raged again. A sucking vacuum of ‘oh no’ where the years of past failures leapt out of our suppressed conscious, manifesting itself through a series of four-letter sentences. Why miss for, Dukes?
Viduka’s failure actioned the final curtain. The grassed arena cleared to showcase the cramped raging calmness of our Toro, El Schwarzer opposing the fleet-footed swerving waist of Toreador Zalayeta.
Striding out to greet his moment in the sun, Zalayeta launched the vessel that would his carry his name toward immortality, crowned as a prince in all of Uruguay, a milonga would be etched in his name and….oh.
SCHWARZER YOU BLOODY BONZA ANIMAL!
Soaring like a proud possum hurled from the window of a Qantas 737, Schwarzer plucked our fate from the cool Sydney atmosphere, skewering Zalayeta, stepping over his wasted disappointment, wresting the biro from Uruguayan hands, drawing circles the foolscap page of history to check if it was to be.
A signature, eloquent, wide in swooping text on the page of history would read John Aloisi.
We were going.
Reliving the moment, it remains harshly gripping. The smile on my face remains, skin dalmatianed in goosebumps, I feel the same sweeping rash of catharsis I did then.
To me at least, it’s not what it meant then, but rather what it would come to mean. World Cup evenings shared amongst friends, finally feeling each grinding second, each unjust decision, each crushing realisation, each unbelievable victory, split between us all.
Australia at the World Cup is a very special thing, and only those who have lived without it, knows what it is to live with it.