Australia sealed its place in world football’s showpiece event with a tense 1-nil victory over Iraq.
The crowd of over 80,000 fans at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium had to wait until the 83rd minute for match-winner, courtesy of a headed goal from substitute striker Josh Kennedy.
Attila Mosonyi reports.
Large crowds greeted the Socceroos at Sydney’s harbour foreshore to congratulate them on securing a spot in their third successive World Cup finals.
Football Federation Australia chief executive David Gallop led the victory celebrations at Circular Quay by emphasising the significance of the Socceroos’ achievement.
“This is the thing that other countries want to be part of. This is important for Australian football. This is important for Australian sport. This is important for our nation. I want to congratulate our team, they have put in courageous performance on the field and just as importantly they have conducted themselves with pride and humility off the field.”
Head coach Holger Osieck has thanked the crowd for their support and promised more to come from his team in Brazil.
“I’m very happy for all you guys for your great support and that we could make it to the World Cup. And we will make you proud, for sure!”
It’s been a long and tough qualifying campaign for the Socceroos and it all came down to the final 10 minutes of their last Group B match against Iraq.
Australia controlled possession from start to finish, but was unable to convert its opportunities.
Time and time again, the Socceroos failed to convert and the stoic Iraqi defence held on until half-time.
But back again after the break, Robbie Kruse volleyed the ball into the back of the net in the 65th minute.
Celebration quickly turned to frustration as the referee disallowed the goal because of a foul.
Amid a flurry of substitutions, Coach Osieck brought on Josh Kennedy, replacing prolific goal-scorer Tim Cahill, who was visibly angry with the decision.
The substitution turned out to be a master-stoke when Kennedy’s clinical 83rd-minute header sent the crowd wild.
Here’s how it was called on SBS Radio.
“Josh Kennedy has scored. Delirium at Stadium Australia. Australia have one foot in the World Cup of 2014. Josh Kennedy, expertly with the head. And it’s Australia 1, Iraq nil.”
It was Kennedy’s first match for Australia in over a year, and speaking with SBS after the match, he couldn’t hide his delight.
“It’s amazing feeling. I guess the boss has been waiting to use me in the last game, so I think it was meant to be, yeah an amazing moment for me and for the boys, it’s a great feeling.”
Socceroos captain Lucas Neill is one of four Socceroos players – alongside Mark Bresciano, Tim Cahill and Mark Schwarzer – who have qualified for their third World Cup.
The veteran defender has admitted to SBS that it’s been an emotional qualification campaign.
“Relief, overwhelmed, really proud. It’s been a very hard campaign. Six months ago it was looking a little bit iffy, but we stuck together, we played some really good football in the last three games and now we get to realise a dream and that dream is that we are going to another world cup, my third and this is just great for the nation.”