Australia had not qualified for the FIFA World Cup™ in 31 years when they took on two-time world champions Uruguay in the second leg of a play-off in Sydney in November 2005. Uruguay had fought their way through a gruelling preliminary campaign to finish fifth in the South American standings, while Australia had muscled their way past Solomon Islands in to earn the right to battle the Celeste for a place at Germany 2006.
Four years earlier, Uruguay had reached Korea/Japan 2002 at Australia's expense. Revenge was clearly in the air, but few in the crowd could have anticipated the nail-biting drama that was to unfold over the next two and a half hours.
16 November 2005, Olympic Stadium, Sydney
Australia 1-0 Uruguay (1-1 aggregate): Australia win 4-2 on penalties
Scorer: Bresciano 35
Australia: Mark Schwarzer, Lucas Neill, Scott Chipperfield, Tim Cahill, Tony Vidmar, Tony Popovic (Harry Kewell 31), Brett Emerton (Josip Skoko 110), Mark Viduka, Vince Grella, Jason Culina, Mark Bresciano (John Aloisi 96)
Uruguay: Fabian Carini, Diego Lugano, Dario Rodriguez, Paolo Montero (Marcelo Sosa 81), Perez Pablo Garcia, Guillermo Rodriguez, Gustavo Varela, Carlos Diogo, Alvaro Recoba (Marcelo Zalayeta 73), Mario Regueiro (Fabian Estoyanoff 97), Richard Morales
Australia: Kewell (scored), Neill (scored), Vidmar (scored), Viduka (missed), Aloisi (scored)
Uruguay: D.Rodriguez (saved), Varela (scored), Estoyanoff (scored), Zalayeta (saved)
The script could not have been written any better. Uruguay had defeated Australia in a play-off for the FIFA World Cup in November 2001, overcoming Frank Farina's men 3-0 in the second leg in Montevideo. This time, Guus Hiddink was in charge of the men from Down Under, and the same two teams faced off for a ticket to the world finals. The first leg, in Montevideo this time, gave the Uruguayans a slender 1-0 lead to take to Sydney for the decider. Before 82,600 fans at Sydney's Olympic stadium, the teams entered the field to deafening applause from the yellow-drenched arena.
Australia went on the attack from the outset, despite Hiddink's surprising decision to leave stand-out Harry Kewell, who was short of game time at his club Liverpool, on the bench. Uruguay's defence, well-marshalled by a young Diego Lugano, held out well in the opening minutes, and they were always a threat at the other end, largely thanks to the trickery of their elusive playmaker Alvaro Recoba. Drawing a number of fouls, the little Inter Milan schemer took the resulting free-kicks himself, often forcing the Australian defence into desperate clearances.
Then, on 20 minutes, came a crucial moment: Recoba eluded the Aussie backline to latch on to a through-ball. With only Mark Schwarzer to beat, and on his favoured left foot, Recoba blazed wide. The crowd closed their eyes and exhaled as one.
Uruguay's little master continued to cause the Australians problems, and on the half-hour mark he was elbowed in the face by veteran defender Tony Popovic. The referee produced the expected yellow card and soon afterwards, Popovic was substituted by Harry Kewell, in one of Hiddink's trademark daring moves.
Immediately, Kewell began making significant inroads on the left, abetted by an energetic Mark Bresciano. The initiative was now with Australia, and on 35 minutes came the priceless goal. A neat flick from Mark Viduka released Kewell, who surged forward into the box. In an attempt to shoot, he instead mis-kicked directly into the path of the onrushing Bresciano, who thumped a right-footed shot past Fabian Carini.
Early in the second half, Recoba's pinpoint delivery from set-pieces threatened to give Uruguay a crucial away goal, but first Lugano, then Richard Morales, failed to get their headers on target. At the other end, Kewell was still terrorising the Uruguayans on the left wing, but Viduka and others could not make the most of the chances created. Full-time arrived, extra time ticked away, and the tie remained locked at 1-1 on aggregate. Penalties it would be.
It was now time for Australia's two heroes to take centre stage. The first of them, Mark Schwarzer, made a fine save from the first Uruguayan penalty-taker, defender Dario Rodriguez. Uruguay's next two kicks found the net, however, and when Mark Viduka missed Australia's fourth kick, things were becoming tense. Yet Schwarzer saved again from Marcelo Zalayeta, and Australia were 3-2 ahead with one penalty to take.
Up stepped hero number two, journeyman striker John Aloisi. He had arrived after 96 minutes, substituting the goal-scorer Mark Bresciano, to provide important support for a tired Mark Viduka. As 82,000 Australian fans held their breath, Aloisi strode confidently up to the mark, blasted the ball past Carini, and wheeled away in triumph, waving his shirt wildly above his head as his team-mates rushed up to congratulate him.
"It was voted the number one moment in Australian sporting history. When you think that rugby fans and Australian Rules [Football] fans were there supporting us on the night, that says a lot for how far football has come in Australia," Jason Culina, Australian midfielder.
What happened next...
Australia went into only their second FIFA World Cup tournament in confident mood, following a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands and a 1-0 win over European champions Greece in the lead-up. Early in their first game against Japan they went 1-0 down, but produced a remarkable comeback in the final ten minutes to run out 3-1 winners, with Aloisi scoring the final goal. After a loss to Brazil and a tense 2-2 draw with Croatia, they reached the second round, in which they were drawn with eventual champions Italy. After a tight, scoreless ninety minutes, it looked like being another extra-time adventure for the Socceroos, but Francesco Totti's penalty in the fourth minute of injury time ended the Australians' great adventure.