Australia’s opening match at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ against Germany builds on a brief but poignant history between one of the traditional superpowers of the game and a fast-improving New World nation. The match at Durban marks just the third meeting between the two at full international level, yet from Australia’s perspective Germany seems inexorably linked.
The contrast between the pair's respective FIFA World Cup records could not be starker. Germany are three-time champions, rank alongside Brazil with the most Final appearances, and have been in more semi-finals than any country. Australia, conversely, have been to just two previous FIFA World Cups, and yet it is on the world’s greatest stage where the association really begins.
Australia achieved their inaugural qualification for the FIFA World Cup in 1974 with the tournament held in Germany. After numerous near misses, their absence from the world’s greatest stage was finally ended in 2006 as the FIFA World Cup returned to Germany for the second time. Now Germany again awaits the Socceroos: this time on the pitch.
The match in 1974 saw the Australian team comprised entirely of domestic-based amateur players, while Germany were blessed by a golden generation of players even by their own lofty standards. The Australians lost 3-0 in Hamburg in what was a classic David and Goliath pairing.
The second and last outing was a seven-goal thriller that kick-started the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup campaigns for the two nations. Germany triumphed 4-3 in Frankfurt, with numerous prominent combatants from that match still key players, including Bastian Schweinsteiger and Per Mertesacker for Germany, plus Tim Cahill and Brett Emerton for Australia.
Another central figure from that match is the impressive Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. Born in Sydney to German parents, Schwarzer started his European club career with several seasons in the Bundesliga before going on to become one of the greats of Australian football. Now the longest-serving Socceroos goalkeeper of all time, Schwarzer also seems likely to become his country's most-capped player over the coming year or so, barring injury or a sudden drop in form.
The German connection was seemingly forever set in stone way back in 1965, when Australia played their first-ever FIFA World Cup qualifier. The captain and lone goalscorer in a heavy defeat against Korea DPR was none other than Hannover-born Les Scheinflug, who had moved down under as an 18-year-old. Scheinflug was a prominent name in Australian football for many years having been assistant coach at Germany 1974 and senior coach in the early 1980s, as well being the long-serving national U-20 supremo. Scheinflug assumed the reins of the national team in 1981 after Australia parted company with inimitable German journeyman Rudi Gutendorf as the Socceroos capitulated at home against New Zealand, in a result which sent the Kiwis on the road for Spain 1982.
Six months after that ignominious defeat, Germany claimed their one and only FIFA U-20 World Cup crown at the same Sydney Cricket Ground in which Gutendorf had seen his tenure come to an end. Another major name of German parentage was Socceroo skipper from the failed 2002 FIFA World Cup, Paul Okon, sometimes known earlier in his career as Paul Okon-Engstler. More recently, numerous Socceroos have played in the Bundesliga including current squad members Josh Kennedy, Craig Moore, Michael Beauchamp and Dario Vidosic.
As Australia continue to become more prominent in world football, hopefully the spirit of fraternity will remain as it did in that first meeting against Germany back in June 1974. Socceroo striker from that match, Adrian Alston, tells a well-known anecdote of securing the prized shirt of Franz Beckenbauer: “I went into the dressing room before the match and asked to swap shirts, [saying] ‘Hey Becky I want to swap shirts’. And he replied in perfect English ‘What number are you’. As the match drew to close I tried to stay near him, and after the match he turned down other players to find me and give me his shirt like a gentleman, true to his word.”