When Craig Moore made his international bow against Qatar in Melbourne in February, he must have felt that he was leaving the national team in good hands. Australia had, after all, just won 3-0, and the team was looking sharp and focused. It seemed the perfect time for the ex-Rangers defender, a stalwart of the national team for a decade, to gracefully quit the international arena, and to concentrate on his club duties with Queensland Roar.
Yet Australia coach Pim Verbeek has struggled to find a permanent partner for current captain Lucas Neill in defence. Although Colchester United's Chris Coyne filled the position capably in Australia's fourth qualifying round opener against Uzbekistan, Verbeek was looking for a more experienced head at the back. His thoughts turned again to the Queensland man...and Moore was prepared to reconsider his retirement plans.
"I don't have to explain what the qualities of Craig Moore are," said Verbeek when Moore indicated that he would be available for national selection again. Sure enough, the red-haired defensive strongman partnered his Germany 2006 colleague Lucas Neill against Qatar again on 15 October in front of his home fans in Brisbane, and Australia triumphed 4-0.
"It's always nice when you can come back in and get a result like that," said a pleased Moore after the game. He confirmed that his international comeback was no one-off occasion, too: "" Those who know the esteem in which Verbeek holds the Aussie veteran will tell you that he is not likely to be kicked out any time soon.
I'm in for the long haul now, unless Pim [Verbeek] kicks me out first.
Craig Moore was not the only returning veteran to make a significant impact on the last matchday of Asian FIFA World Cup™ qualifying. Long-time FIFA World Cup buffs might remember Iran scoring their first-ever win at the global showpiece at France 1998, against the USA. One of the goalscorers for Team Melli that day was a certain Mehdi Mahdavikia.
The elegant right-sided player has gone on to carve out a distinguished career in the German Bundesliga, starting off with Bochum before moving on to eight productive years with Hamburg. He has been a mainstay of the Iranian national team as well, playing a significant role in their qualification for Germany 2006.
For Iran's match against Group 2 high-flyers Korea DPR, the 31-year-old Mahdavikia was recalled to the national team by Iran coach (and former team-mate) Ali Daei for the first time since February. He repaid the coach's faith in full, scoring an early headed goal to set the often goal-shy Iranians on the way to a crucial victory.
Mahdavikia, too, is happy to continue contributing to the national team, now that he has been recalled to the fold. And will it be difficult working under a coach who used to be his on-field colleague? "I have no problem with this issue," claimed the veteran, now with Eintracht Frankfurt. He has noticed some changes while he has been away, too: "The team has become younger, I hope this team will qualify for the World Cup, so that these players can progress."