A NEW ERA BE­GINS 2006

Barely a day goes by for John Aloisi – lit­er­ally the poster boy for the Soc­ceroos’ Golden Gen­er­a­tion – with­out him be­ing asked about the mo­ment he ended our 32-year World Cup drought. He also found the back of the net at the tour­na­ment it­self... and would

Australian Four Four Two - - WORLD CUP 2006 -

QUAL­I­FI­CA­TION What are your mem­o­ries of the qual­i­fi­ca­tion process?

I al­ways go back to the 2001 qual­i­fiers when we missed out against Uruguay. I had to put up with four years of stick when I went back to Spain be­cause I played with two Uruguayans at Osasuna. They used to tease me about Aus­tralia not be­ing that good at foot­ball. When we ac­tu­ally drew them again, I couldn’t wait be­cause I knew that this time around, we were bet­ter pre­pared. We had a lot of play­ers who had been in a cou­ple of cam­paigns al­ready and we just be­lieved it was our time to qual­ify for the World Cup.

Tough­est mo­ment?

There were plenty, but we were ready for it. I only came on for about 10 min­utes in Mon­te­v­ideo and I got kicked by one of their play­ers. I had a go back at him in Span­ish and Paolo Mon­tero told me he was go­ing to break my leg when we got to Syd­ney. After los­ing the first game 1-0, we thought, we’re in a good po­si­tion here. When we got back to Syd­ney, we felt like we had the ad­van­tage be­cause of the travel – we had our own char­ter plane, they had to stop over twice, so it took them a while. We knew we’d have an op­por­tu­nity of beat­ing them.

Did you ever think Aus­tralia wouldn’t make it?

No. We just had the be­lief we were good enough to do it. We weren’t afraid to play them in Mon­te­v­ideo. Four years be­fore, we didn’t know what to ex­pect. When we ar­rived at the air­port there were peo­ple there – I wouldn’t say to greet us, but make life hard for us. This time, we knew that would hap­pen and we didn’t care. We knew there was go­ing to be a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment, but we were look­ing for­ward to it.

What did it feel like in the mo­ment when qual­i­fi­ca­tion was in the bag?

It had been so long – 32 years. To be part of it and be able to be the one that sent Aus­tralia to the World Cup... it wasn’t just the play­ers who were there. It was for ev­ery­one that fol­lowed foot­ball for their whole lives that were in that mo­ment. I was just the one that took the penalty. It was an un­be­liev­able feel­ing. Tak­ing off my top and run­ning like a mad­man, that was just the ec­stasy com­ing out and the years of heart­break we’d had as a na­tion.

PRE­PAR­ING FOR GER­MANY What was the vibe in the host coun­try?

I’d been told you have to go to one to ac­tu­ally un­der­stand it. There’s im­por­tant games every day and the whole coun­try stops to watch it. Then you re­alise it’s not only the coun­try you’re in, but the ma­jor­ity of the world is watch­ing every sin­gle World Cup game. It’s in­cred­i­ble to be part of it.

How did the lo­cals take to Aus­tralia?

There were Aus­tralian flags ev­ery­where. It was like we were their sec­ond team. We were stay­ing in their town and they couldn’t do enough for us. The whole town where we were stay­ing were there to help us. We had at times, 5,000 to 10,000 peo­ple watch­ing us in that lit­tle sta­dium that we were train­ing in. You don’t ever get to ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing like that.

How were the train­ing fa­cil­i­ties?

The ho­tel we were in, it was like an old cas­tle. It had a Miche­lin star restau­rant that was cook­ing us the food. It was an amaz­ing place. The train­ing ground was not that far away, prob­a­bly five min­utes away, and the pitch was great. We had ev­ery­thing we needed.

What was the mood of the team like?

We had trained in­cred­i­bly hard and so we knew, phys­i­cally, we were go­ing to be pre­pared. And we knew the first game against Ja­pan was re­ally our World Cup fi­nal. So we knew that we had to win that game to have any chance of mak­ing the next round. Our be­lief and our goal within the group was that we were good enough to do it. We wanted to show the world that Aus­tralian foot­ball is at a good level and that we can com­pete with any­one.

THE MATCHES What was it like hear­ing the an­them be­fore the first match?

Hear­ing the an­them in any game was spe­cial. When you hear it in Aus­tralia, the ma­jor­ity of sup­port­ers will sing it. But to hear it in a for­eign coun­try... we had so many sup­port­ers there, it felt like we had the ma­jor­ity of the sta­dium and it felt like our home game. That was spe­cial.

Which was the tough­est match?

All the games were tough, they all had dif­fi­cul­ties. We could have got­ten some­thing out of the Brazil game. The Ja­pan game, we were for­tu­nate to come back and Croa­tia the same. And then of course, there was Italy. We felt like we had a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity to get through that game and get through the quar­ters. We ended up con­ced­ing that penalty with the last kick of the game.

Your best mo­ment on the field?

Win­ning against Ja­pan and be­ing able to score in that game. That was clearly a high­light. Another was qual­i­fy­ing through the round against Croa­tia. We equalised right at the end through Harry Kewell.

And the worst?

The two big­gest dis­ap­point­ments were in that same game against Croa­tia. I ac­tu­ally scored while the ref­eree whis­tled for full-time. It was Gra­ham Poll, who gave Josip Simu­nic three yel­low cards be­fore he sent him off. We would have won that game 3-2. That was a per­sonal dis­ap­point­ment but as a col­lec­tive, clearly, it was the game against Italy.

Your best mo­ment off the field?

After one game, Guus Hid­dink al­lowed us out for a day and night, so we just went down in our civil­ian clothes – not in our Aus­tralian track­suits – and spent the day in Stuttgart. To get to ex­pe­ri­ence it as a sup­porter while you’re ac­tu­ally play­ing in the World Cup was good. I went out with our fam­ily and when the game was on, there were TVs in every sin­gle restau­rant that I saw and ev­ery­one was watch­ing the games while eat­ing din­ner.

And the worst?

When we got knocked out and vir­tu­ally left the next day. You don’t want it to hap­pen. You’re en­joy­ing that mo­ment, that pe­riod, that ex­pe­ri­ence so much, and then it’s gone. You don’t know if you’re ever go­ing to get that back again.

What about the fun­ni­est mo­ment?

Frank Lowy came into the rooms after we lost to Italy to say well done, and tell us we were un­lucky not to get through. Ev­ery­one was quite down at the time, as you’d ex­pect. Frank passed the phone to Mark Viduka and he goes, ‘Mark, it’s the Prime Min­is­ter.’ Mark was prob­a­bly a bit dazed, he didn’t know what was go­ing on. He picked it up and said, ‘Yeah, how ya go­ing, mate?’ to the Prime Min­is­ter.

What’s your last­ing mem­ory of the 2006 World Cup?

We showed the world that we can play. I wouldn’t say it was a chance that we lost… but I’d say what could have been, as well, if we got through that Ital­ian game. It was un­ex­pected to get that far but when you’re play­ing against 10 men for so long and you lose with the last kick of the game, you don’t know what could have been.

YOU’RE EN­JOY­ING THAT MO­MENT SO MUCH, AND THEN IT’S GONE. YOU DON’T KNOW IF YOU’LL EVER GET THAT BACK...

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