The Socceroos defied the odds to beat Honduras in a two-legged World Cup qualifying playoff and they will be heading to Russia next June.
Their reward is a strong group also featuring World Cup favourites France, a stubborn Denmark side and an improving Peru team. They will need to defy the odds once more if they are to get out of that group as the bookmakers on Oddschecker have them as the outsiders to win it.
France are the heavy favourites, followed by Denmark, then Peru and then Australia at really long odds. Only two teams can reach the knockout stage of the tournament, and Australia are given the smallest chance of doing so. But the players can take confidence from several times in the past when the Socceroos defied the odds to beat a more vaunted opponent:
Australia 2-1 Netherlands
The Socceroos headed to the Netherlands to face a team ranked fourth in the world back in 2008 and beat them 2-1 on their home turf. The Netherlands had finished runners-up at the previous World Cup and fielded a side boasting the talents of stars like Robin Van Persie, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Mark Van Bommel and Raphael Van Der Vaart.
They lived up to their billing in a thrilling opening period and took the lead through a Huntelaar strike after just six minutes. Mark Schwartzer was forced to make a number of fine saves to keep the visitors in the game, and travelling Socceroos fans must have feared they were in for a long night, but Australia fought their way back into the game. On the stroke of half-time, Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg brought down Josh Kennedy and was sent off. Harry Kewell slotted in the penalty and the Socceroos were deservedly level. They dominated the second half and Kennedy won it with a fine header from Luke Wilkshire’s cross.
Australia 1-0 Nigeria
Australia were expected to be swept aside by a strong Nigerian team on a wet night in London 10 years ago, but produced an inspired performance to secure victory. David Carney banged in an absolute screamer from 25 yards to settle it just after half-time. The Socceroos were under-strength for the match and they defied the odds and the horrendous conditions to deservedly beat a highly rated team. That sort of battling spirit would serve them well in Russia next year.
Australia 31-0 American Samoa
The Socceroos were expected to beat American Samoa comfortably when they met for a World Cup qualifier in 2001, but nobody predicted they would win by such a margin. The odds would have been huge on them beating a 30-goal handicap, but Australia delivered the heaviest international win of all time.
It has since been bettered by Fiji, who beat Micronesia 38-0 two years ago, but still stands as the second biggest win in history. Archie Thompson scored 13 times, a record that still stands in international football, while David Zdrilic helped himself to eight goals.
Australia 3-1 England
The Socceroos pulled off arguably their greatest result of all time when they beat England in the motherland back in 2003. “Cricket, tennis, rugby and now football – is there any sport where England can beat Australia?” bemoaned the English press in the aftermath of this huge upset. Frank Farina’s men were great value for their win as they were impressive on the ball throughout.
Wayne Rooney made his debut for the home team alongside the likes of Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand and David Beckham, but they were no match for the Socceroos. Tony Popovic evaded marker Gary Neville and nodded in a Stan Lazaridis free kick to give Australia a well-deserved lead at the break.
Sven Goran Eriksen made a raft of changes, but the visitors doubled their advantage after half-time when Kewell – who put in a man of the match performance, as he so often did – robbed Ferdinand, rounded David James and scored. Francis Jeffers got one back for England, but Brett Emerton slotted in a third to give Australia a comfortable victory.
Australia 1-0 Uruguay
This was arguably the greatest night in Australian footballing history, as the Socceroos qualified for the 2006 World Cup in Germany with a gutsy performance. These two teams had met four years previously and Uruguay secured a comfortable 3-1 aggregate victory, crushing Australian dreams of going to Japan and South Korea for the 2002 tournament.
The Uruguayans won the first leg 1-0 in 206 and came to Sydney odds-on to break Australian hearts for a second time running. But they were met with fierce resistance and once again Kewell – named the best Socceroo ever in 2012 – took the game by the scruff of the neck. He was a constant threat to Uruguay, putting them on the back foot throughout the game, and he drove into the box and teed up Mark Bresciano to hammer in a fierce strike in the first half.
It went to extra-time and then penalties, where Mark Schwartzer was the Socceroos’ hero. He saved two penalties to atone for Mark Viduka’s miss, and John Aloisi slotted in the winning spot-kick, sending a nation into rapturous delirium. The Socceroos went all the way to the knockout stages in Germany, and this win heralded a boom time for the Australian team.
Martin Green is an experienced sports writer and has been covering international soccer for many year.