For many years, Socceroos fans have persevered through disappointments and let downs. The teams fabled run at the 2006 World Cup set high standards, with quadrennial expectations to match or better the feat of reaching the tournaments knockout stage. From close calls to embarrassing defeats, the Socceroos had since failed to recapture the triumph of 2006, until this year.
Hopes weren’t high for the Socceroos heading into the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It had been 12 years since Australia’s last world cup victory and the ‘roos hadn’t exactly had stellar performances at the tournaments two previous iterations, finishing winless at the bottom of their group on both occasions. But 2022 ended a 16-year spell of mediocrity.
Not only did the Socceroos win their first game in 12 years, they also went one better and won two games at the same World Cup for the first time. The result was a record high group stage points total of six. After only keeping their opponents scoreless once in Australia’s World Cup history, way back in 1974, the team twice accomplished the achievement in Qatar.
The Socceroos run in Qatar will go down in Australian sporting folklore. The campaign unified fans and captured the hearts of the nation, potentially inspiring the next generation. In a tournament filled with breathtaking and cheer-inducing moments, here’s a few of the best from the Socceroos historic campaign.
The Dancing Goalkeeper Secures Australia’s Qualification
Before the Socceroos incredible run in Qatar, they had to barely scrape their way into qualification in a do or die match against Peru which ended with a dramatic penalty shootout. Morale was low heading in after an unimpressive qualification period and a string of poor matches. It looked like Australia could miss the World Cup altogether. This is where the odds-defying run began.
After keeping Peru scoreless for a nail biting 120 minutes, the game went to penalties. With the entire nation watching, an unexpected hero stepped into the spotlight to literally save the day. 33-year-old Andrew Redmayne had only made three appearances prior to the showdown with Peru. But despite his lack of international experience, the goalkeeper was subbed on after the final whistle for his reputation as a penalty saving specialist.
Redmayne’s goal line dancing antics successfully put off the Peruvian penalty takers. The ‘grey wiggle’ made two saves, including the decisive stop, to book Australia’s spot in Qatar. Australian fans rejoiced.
Short-Lived Jubilation Against the World Champions
Drawn into a difficult group, the Socceroos were primed for a dramatic rematch against defending world champions France in their opening match. The French had defeated Australia 2-1 in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup before going on to win the tournament. For even the most optimistic of fans, it was difficult to see the Socceroos pulling off an upset.
Thousands of Australian fans braved the cold early morning air to watch the Socceroos opening game against the World Champions and they weren’t disappointed. After a fast-paced start, the ‘roos early aggression paid off. Matt Leckie found space down the sideline and fired in a pinpoint cross to Craig Goodwin, who blasted in an impossible-to-save shot, giving Australia the lead.
Our jubilation was short-lived. It only took France 18 minutes to equalise and another five to take the lead. But for a brief period, the Socceroos had one-upped the world champions. The tone was set.
⚽ What a way to start! ????????— SBS Sport (@SBSSportau) November 22, 2022
Craig Goodwin with the goal of his career after a superb assist from Leckie!
Watch Australia v France at the #FIFAWorldCup from Qatar LIVE right now on @SBS and @SBSOnDemand! ???????? ????????
▶: https://t.co/ddF2fkkIvk#SBSWorldCup #WeAllSpeakFootball pic.twitter.com/FTl84AhBV9
The Youngest Socceroo Makes His Mark
Born in an Egyptian refugee camp to parents fleeing war-torn Sudan before migrating to Australia at the age of six, Garang Kuol made an incredible journey on his way to becoming the youngest Socceroo to play at the World Cup. Kuol came on as a substitute in the late going against France, instantly cementing his place in history, but he didn’t stop there. Kuol made an immediate impact. Providing needed pace and fresh legs to a dejected team who were down 4-1 by the time he entered the game.
Kuol made enough of an impression to warrant an appearance in the final showdown against Argentina. The 18-year-old was injected into the do-or-die match during its dying embers. Kuol initially struggled to find the ball, but when he did, he very nearly made it count. With less than 30 seconds left in the game, with Australia behind by a single goal, Kuol found himself with open space deep inside Argentina’s penalty box.
With an opportunity to tie the game, Kuol’s desperate strike was miraculously saved by the Argentinian goalkeeper. Less than a minute later, the game was over and the Socceroos were eliminated, but Kuol left a lasting impression on the international stage.
SO CLOSE FOR THE @Socceroos! ????— SBS Sport (@SBSSportau) December 3, 2022
Emi Martinez came to Argentina’s rescue to deny Garang Kuol what would have been a 97th-minute equaliser! ???????????????? #SBSWorldCup #WeAllSpeakFootball #FIFAWorldCup pic.twitter.com/YXI71dXmRl
First World Cup Win in 12 Years
After a demoralising loss to France in the opening game, the Socceroos were thrust into a must win situation against Tunisia. A loss, or even a draw, would have almost certainly eliminated Australia. Under heavy pressure, the Socceroos stepped up big time.
Striker Mitch Duke was the hero. His jaw-dropping header found the back of the net in the 23rd minute and gave Australia a critical lead. Duke followed his goal with a touching celebration. While bolting towards the cacophonous crowd, Duke made a ‘J’ with his finger, an acknowledgement of his son Jaxson, who was watching on proudly from the stands.
After taking the early lead the Socceroos went into ultra-defensive mode. Successfully holding out the tenacious Tunisian attack in a nail-biting showdown. The victory gave Australia it’s first World Cup win in 12 years, a crucial three points and kept the nations dreams alive.
The Biggest Socceroo Puts the World on Notice
At 198cm, Australian defender Harry Souttar was the tallest outfield player at the 2022 World Cup. Big Harry’s immense size was a crucial cog in the machine that was the Socceroos defence, but his performance was also extremely skillful. Souttar repelled every cross that came his way during the torunament and made a world class last ditch sliding tackle against Tunisia to stop a rampaging counterattack and effectively save the game.
Souttar was solid in every Socceroos match, he even made an appearance as an emergency striker in the final stages of Australia’s loss to Argentina. The 23-year-old currently plays for Stoke City in the English second division, but he put Europe’s top teams on notice with his sublime World Cup performance. It surely won’t be long before big Harry makes his way to a big club.
The message across Australia in the lead up to the Socceroos final group stage game against Denmark was that “we only need a draw”. This was the expectation, as preventing a Danish victory would almost assure the Socceroos progression, but what this didn’t account for was Tunisia upsetting France. Socceroos coach Graham Arnold assured reporters that Australia would not be playing for a draw. The team would ignore their group-mates match and focus on what they could control: winning their own game.
Following a scoreless first half, the momentum was well and truly with a resurgent Danish team who were pegged as dark horses prior to the tournament. The energy shifted when Matt Leckie was unleashed into open space on a sudden counterattack. Leckie was clinical, putting the Socceroos up 1-0 with 30 minutes left in the game.
The Socceroos held the lead. Keeping a second consecutive clean-sheet and ensuring the Socceroos progression to the knockout stages. And it was just as well, for Tunisia did manage to pull off a shocking upset against France. In the end, Arnold was right. A draw wouldn’t have been enough to see the Socceroos through and Leckie’s goal would go down in history as the critical point in their progression.
Bowing Out With Class
There would be no lucky draw for the Socceroos heading into the round of 16. A matchup against Argentina, the tournament favourites ranked third in the world, welcomed Australia into its first knockout game since 2006. Hoping against the odds, thousands of Australia’s flocked to public viewing locations across the country to watch the decisive game.
Lionel Messi made his presence felt, wreaking havoc on the Socceroos defence and scoring the opening goal. Another goal would follow in the second half after a goalkeeper error and Australia’s hopes were dashed. The Socceroos could have accepted defeat, but instead they kept fighting to get back into the game.
Craig Goodwin’s deflected goal in the 77th minute brought the Socceroos back from the brink. FIFA officially lists Goodwin’s strike as an own goal, but good luck trying to stop Aussie fans from claiming it as Goodwin’s second of the tournament. Late chances from Aziz Behich and Garang Kuol almost led to an unthinkable comeback win, but it wasn’t to be. The Socceroos would eventually bow out with a valiant 2-1 defeat.
Scenes on the Home Front
Incredible, absolutely incredible.— Sacha Pisani (@Sachk0) November 30, 2022
Just like in 2006, #Socceroos are among world’s top 16. Only the second time in history.
Tears, goosebumps. I’m feeling it all.
And look what it means to fans in Melbourne, packing into Fed Square from 2am!#WorldCuppic.twitter.com/ysfkcWN9Jk
The Socceroos run did more than simply bring football fans together. All of Australia was united in World Cup fever. And the fanfare only grew with every game. The incompatible time difference between Qatar and most of Australia was no deterrent for fans, who braved the early mornings and late nights to support their team.
Dramatic scenes from across the country demonstrate just how impactful the Socceroos campaign was. With capacity crowds at Melbourne’s Federation Square and Darling Harbour in Sydney, as well as packed out venues across the rest of the country, Australian fans got behind the Socceroos in greater numbers than we’ve seen for years.
While the Socceroos run was abruptly cut short in the round of 16, the team’s historic campaign was packed with ground-breaking achievements and served as a unifying force across Australia. This World Cup will be one to remember for years to come.