Ask any Australian football fan what was the worst night in the country's recent football history, and they would reply without hesitation: 29 November, 1997. The night Australia blew a 2-0 lead against Iran, and missed their golden chance to qualify for the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™. In the Australian midfield that fateful night was a certain Craig Foster, and he does not mince his words when describing the team's emotions after the final whistle went.
"Utter devastation," he recalls. "Some of us couldn't talk about it with each other for months afterwards. And when the team got back together, on the way to the  Confederations Cup, the other people on the plane were wondering why grown men were crying!"
Foster's journey to the national team had been an arduous one, including two career-threatening injuries along the way. His performances with Australia in that 1998 qualifying campaign secured him a European move, but after frustrating spells with Crystal Palace and Portsmouth, he headed back to Australia, and wound up his playing career with local outfit Northern Spirit in 2002.
Since then, he has become one of the most recognizable faces on Australian television, and the face of football for many fans down under. His media career began with the 2002 FIFA World Cup, when Australian TV network SBS invited him to join the team as an expert commentator.
"[SBS] brought me in for 2002, and I didn't have any great designs, but the timing was perfect. It was magnificent, the first World Cup in our time zone, and the response from the public was absolutely immense. I enjoyed it from the first moment. I thought this was a great job, watching football and talking football!"
Foster quickly became an integral part of SBS's football team, and with the death from cancer of SBS's chief football analyst Johnny Warren, a legendary former Socceroo captain, he stepped into the chief analyst's chair. His articulate, detailed analysis quickly proved a hit with viewers. "It was very fortunate, to be able to analyse the games, and I found very quickly that the more I tried to analyse and pull some depth out of the game, the more the viewers responded, and that drove me to do more," Foster recalls. "That was what I really enjoyed."
Where Foster really broke new ground, however, was when he accepted a position as sports newsreader with SBS. In Australia, such positions are often held by former cricket, rugby and Australian rules football players, but having a former footballer behind the news desk was something truly new. "It gave football a voice," says Foster. "What I believe very strongly is that Australian football will only grow when we are able to get football people, former players, or true lovers of the game, into positions of influence, visibility, and power. And being the only free-to-air broadcaster who's an ex-Socceroo, that's a position of visibility, and I thought that was important."
Foster is delighted with the growth of the game in Australia in recent years, including the national team's fine performance at Germany 2006, the introduction of the A-League, and the move to the Asian confederation. "All indicators at the moment are beautiful for Australian football," he observes. "And in recent years, I think there's been an immense growth in the level of football discussion. People are much more comfortable about public discussion, about the coach's performance, for instance...they're not afraid to criticize now."
And in the midst of his media duties, Foster still finds time to play the game, with a group of good friends in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs competition. And he is enjoying his football like never before! "I play with a bunch of Brazilians and some French guys, and we don't run madly, we just play. It's given me a great insight into the beauty of the game, the value of technique, to play football at different speeds, all those issues have really crystallized in the years since I've retired from the professional game."
Facts and figures
Clubs: Sydney Croatia (1989), Sunshine George Cross (1990), Earnest Boral (1992-95), Adelaide City (1996), Marconi (1996-97), Portsmouth (1997-98), Crystal Palace (1998-2000), Northern Spirit (2000-2002)
National team: 29 caps (9 goals)
Honours: Oceania Nations Cup 2000