Australia’s FIFA World Cup™ qualification in 2005 at the expense of two-time world champions Uruguay is rightly lauded as a breakthrough moment, with the sport Down Under on a significant upward trajectory ever since. However, the class of ‘73 achieved unique against-the-odds success for Australia in a context that is unlikely to be repeated.
Australia: Jim Fraser, Doug Utjesenovic, Peter Wilson, Manfred Schaefer, Col Curran, Ray Richards, Jim Mackay, Jim Rooney, Atti Abonyi (Adrian Alston 56’), Ray Baartz, Branko Buljevic
Coach: Rale Rasic
South Korea: Lee Saeyun, Kim Hokon, Yoo Kaeheung, Kang Keewook Park Yungtae, Cha Bumkeun, Ko Jaewook, Park Byungchul, Kim Jinkook (Chung Kyupoong 59’), Kim Jaehan, Kang Taehyun
Coach: Min Byoung Dae
Having narrowly failed to qualify for the 1970 World Cup following a long and convoluted qualifying path, a battle-hardened Australia were hopeful of maiden qualification for Germany 1974. So too, a strong Korea Republic side were optimistic of breaking their 20-year drought dating back to a sole appearance at the World Cup in 1954. Korea Republic had defeated Mexico 1970 qualifiers Israel in the previous round to reach the Asia/Oceania zone play-off and, prior to that, Japan.
Australia, for their part, were also emboldened after an aggregate win over Iran, which included surviving a torrid test at Tehran’s notoriously intimidating Azadi stadium. The contest was to be played over two home and away legs and, significantly, a third match, rather than away goals, would be used to determine a winner should the tie remain undecided.
The pair played out two pulsating encounters with the first leg in Sydney finishing scoreless and the match in Seoul deadlocked at 2-2. Goals inside the opening half-hour from Kim Jae Han and Ko Jae Wook had the Koreans with one foot in Germany. However, Branko Buljevic and the talismanic Ray Baartz levelled as Australia survived a second-half onslaught from the livewire Koreans meaning a third match was required.
Remarkably, the two teams were required in neutral Hong Kong just 48 hours later for the decider. The two sets of players shared the same plane trip to Hong Kong the morning after the second leg. Australia midfielder Johnny Warren, who later in life was a tireless advocate for football Down Under, described the Koreans as “looking psychologically disadvantaged.... their confidence shot to bits”. Australia duly had the better of the match, finding rhythm that had been missing in the previous two contests. The first half passed without any goals and with gilt-edged chances at a premium.
The decisive moment finally arrived on the hour-mark. The Korean defence was only able to clear Ray Richards’ free-kick to just outside the penalty area where Jimmy Rooney, with one touch, teed up his room-mate and fellow midfielder Jim Mackay who drove the ball into the top corner of the net for a goal worthy of the occasion. Describing the goal, Australia full-back Doug Utjesenovic said: "That was one of the freakiest goals. You could try a million times to score the exact goal (and never do it).”
Fate could have dealt the Socceroos and the goalscoring hero a very different path. Scottish-born Mackay arrived in Australia in 1965 on a two-year working holiday but instead of returning home, he married and became an Australian citizen. He enjoyed a prosperous five-year career in the Green and Gold, playing all three matches at the 1974 World Cup. Unsurprisingly he is most remembered for his miracle goal.
What they said
“We didn’t get drunk. We were room-mates and just lay on the bed saying ‘what a goal’ over and over and over,” Jimmy Rooney talking about Jim Mackay.
What happened next
Australia’s amateur side performed admirably at the 1974 World Cup losing 3-0 to eventual champions West Germany, 2-0 to East Germany and earning a scoreless draw against Chile. Although Korea Republic would have to wait another 12 years for their World Cup prize, they have since earned eight straight qualifications.
The Australian players from that qualification match 40 years ago were special guests at this week’s Australian Football Awards in Sydney, and will travel to Hong Kong for a celebration dinner with the Hong Kong Football Federation to mark the anniversary of a unique achievement.