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
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.
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...