The Socceroos are regular participants nowadays at World Cups. Since their days of struggling through the Oceania zone, Australia have shifted their affiliation to Asia and, since then, have seen a massive reversal of fortunes.
A four-time champion of the Oceania Football Confederation, Australia has been a part of six World Cup finals (1974, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2018, 2022), reaching as high as 14th place in the world, in 1992. They were Asian champions in 2015 when they won the continental title on home soil.
WORLD CUP CAMPAIGNS
Australia qualified for their first world cup in 1974, having missed out on 1966 and 1970 during the playoffs. They qualified via a two-legged fixture against Iran, their biggest rivals, holding a narrow margin against a tough Iranian team in Tehran. They, then, went on to play another two-legged playoff against South Korea, with both teams ending level after each leg. A decider was played in Hong Kong that Australia won thanks to a Jimmy Mackay freekick.
Placed in a tough group with East Germany, Chile and favourites West Germany, Australia held their own despite ending at the bottom of the group. They lost 0-2 and 0-3 to East & West Germany respectively, before getting a point against Chile. It took them another 32 years to qualify for the world cup, however their qualifying campaigns were full of last minute failures.
In 1966, 1970 and 1986, they lost to North Korea, Israel and Scotland, respectively. In 1994, the playoff was shifted from being against an Asian team, to being against a South American outfit. They played off against Argentina and were beated again.
In 1998, Australia again won the OFC qualification tournament but fell to Iran on the away-goals rule.
2002 saw Australia humiliate manya teams in their qualifying campaign. They hammered 22 goals, without reply, against Tonga to set a world record. They beat their own record in the very next game, against American Samoa, scoring a 31-nil victory.
They played against Uruguay in the playoff to get to the world cup and ended up losing 0-3 to the South Americans in the second leg, after winning the first 1-nil at home. Uruguay knew that Australia would have trouble playing at low-oxygen content heights and scheduled their home game to be played in Montevideo. The Aussies couldn’t cope and capitulated in a tired performance.
2006, Germany saw the Australians qualify for their second world cup campaign. With Guus Hiddink in charge, Australia went on to, again, play Uruguay in the Playoffs. Uruguay were up to their tricks again. Unrest in Montevideo meant that Australia chose to train in Argentina, flying to Montevideo only for the game. Uruguay tried to move the first leg to be held one day earlier, Australia refused.
They then shifted the match-time to 9:oo pm local time, meaning Australia would miss their direct flight back home. They would have to leave one day later, meaning Uruguay would get an additional day of training. The Aussies managed to find ‘economy class’ tickets on a regular commercial flight, after Quantas refused to delay their especially fitted-out 767 for the new time.
Australia lost the first leg 0-1 but went on to win their home leg 1-nil. With both teams tied on aggregate, the game went to penalties and Australia won 4-2 to become the first team to qualify for the world cup via a penalty shootout.
Playing their second world cup in Germany, Australia were placed alongside Japan, Croatia and defending champions, Brazil. Australia came to the world cup with a sensational performance in the pre-tournament warm-ups. They beat European Champions Greece 1-0, before drawing 1-1 with Holland and beating Liechtenstein 3-1.
They began their campaign with a 3-1 win over Japan. Their second game was marred with controversy as reports came out that the team members were involved in betting, a violation of FIFA rules that could lead to disqualification. As it turned out, Lucas Neill and Archie Thompson were betting on Tim Cahill being the first ever Australian scorer at the World Cup finals. Mark Viduka was also part of this while goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac was said to be the bookmaker. FIFA took no action as betting within the teammates wasn’t a violation of their regulations, which had more to do with professional betting.
A goal by Adriano and Fred, each, helped Brazil grab a 2-0 win over Australia. A 2-2 result in the final game against Croatia helped them qualify for the Round of 16. The match gained notoriety for a number of reasons, mostly by the match officials. Referee Graham Poll didn’t give a penalty to Australia after Mark Viduka was wrestled to the floor by Josip Simunic.
After giving Stjepan Tomas a yellow card for a deliberate hand-ball in the 39th minute, he failed to repeat the punishment when Tomas did so again, in the 75th minute. John Aloisi scored the winning goal in the dying minutes of the game, only for Poll to blow the final whistle at the same time. He then went on to blow the final whistle again, moments later, without allowing the Aussie goal to stand. During the game, Poll astoundingly gave Simunic 3 yellow cards, before sending him off after the final whistle, for protests.
In a game that saw 8 yellow cards and 3 reds, Australia managed to qualify thanks to a 4-1 drubbing of Japan, by Brazil. Graham poll was fired from the world cup!
Australia went on to meet Italy in the Round of 16 game. Marco Materazzi was sent off for a two-footed lunge on Mark Bresciano. Italy played the game with 10-men, against an Australia side that looked dominant with every minute. With scores level at 0-0, Fabio Grosso went down in the Australian penalty area in the 95th minute of added time after the second half. The decision was controversial but Francesco Totti stepped up and scored to send Australia home.
Australia, after their qualification for the 2006 World Cup, had shifted to the Asian qualification conference. This allowed them to qualify directly for the world cup, without having to suffer the playoff pain.
In 2010, Australia qualified comfortably top of their qualifying group, despite being drawn with Iraq, China and Qatar. In the fourth round of qualification, Australia shared the group with Japan, Bahrain, Qatar and Uzbekistan. They qualified for the world cup with 2 games to spare, five points clear at the top.
Drawn into the Group of Death at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Australia had Germany, Ghana and Serbia as group-mates. Their first match saw them get thrashed at the hands of Germany, 0-4 the scoreline. They drew 1-1 with Ghana before beating Serbia 2-1 in the final game. However, they failed to qualify for the knockout stages.
• FIFA Confederations Cup: In 2001, Australia was invited for the Confederations Cup in Japan/South Korea. They beat France and Brazil on the way to a third place in the tournament.
AFC ASIAN CUP
After shifting to the AFC zone, Australia qualified for the 2007 AFC Asian Cup and sent in a strong squad. Playing in a group that had Thailand, Oman and Iraq, Australia only managed a draw, a defeat and win against Oman (1-1), Iraq (1-3) and Thailand (4-0) respectively. They qualified for the quarter-finals but lost to Japan on penalties after the game was locked at 1-1 after Extra Time.