Aussies bring together last piece of World Cup jigsaw puzzle

  • Australia were Oceania’s first World Cup representative 46 years ago

  • Socceroos endured long and arduous qualifying campaign

  • 1974 began Australia’s long football connection with Germany

Forty-six years ago today marked the start of the 1974 FIFA World Cup™ and, for the first time, football’s great showpiece kicked off with an Oceanian representative. Australia’s participation, flying the flag for the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) meant all six regions of the world had featured at the tournament.

Shorn of perhaps their best player on the eve of the tournament, striker Ray Baartz, the relatively newly-named Socceroos were far from disgraced. A 2-0 loss against East Germany, a 3-0 defeat against soon-to-be-crowned champions West Germany, and a scoreless draw against Chile were admirable results for an all-amateur side.

The squad featured players from an assortment of mostly blue-collar jobs, including a coal miner, labourers, electricians and even a milkman – once dubbed ‘probably the last milkman to have played at a World Cup’. In context, their results were amazing.

The long and winding road

But the real story was the football journey to reach the World Cup. Incremental progress over three campaigns since their first attempt to qualify for England 1966 was clear.

A hefty two-legged defeat against the soon-to-be-famous Korea DPR - ties that were bizarrely played in Cambodia - opened the Socceroos’ World Cup story.

Four years later, Australia’s embarked on an extraordinarily circuitous journey to the World Cup. Away matches were played against South Korea, Japan, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Israel. Only the ninth and final match was in Australia, but Israel prevailed with a tense 2-1 aggregate scoreline.

And so to 1973. This time it was an 11-match process, including two sudden-death play-offs. A 3-2 aggregate win against Iran was followed by a 2-2 stalemate with Korea Republic. Though the Aussies scored two away goals in Seoul, rules at the time called for a third match – this one to be played in neutral Hong Kong.

A fourth match looked on the cards for a while, but with just 20 minutes remaining, midfielder Jimmy Mackay etched in his name into local sporting folklore with a precise long-range strike into the top corner.

German connection

That goal began a strong connection between Australian football and Germany. The Socceroos enjoyed a level of cult status for the 1974 hosts, having been drawn against West and East Germany, and lining up with German-born defender Manfred Schafer.

Thirty-two years later Australian finally returned to the world stage when Germany was again the host. This time goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer enjoyed some local attentions due to his German-born parents, and his time in the Bundesliga, an experience shared by several of his team-mates.

Tim Cahill’s first-ever Australian World Cup goals in the win over Japan, qualification for the knockout stage and a dramatic last-second defeat against eventual world champions Italy marked a memorable campaign. But nothing can knock the Socceroos’ Class of 74 from their status as pioneers for a nation and a continent.