Mark Schwarzer won’t be taking part in this summer’s World Cup, but the Australian goalkeeper has been speaking to the official Chelsea website about his past experiences in the competition…
One special Sydney night perhaps stands above all others in the considerable career of Mark Schwarzer.
November 16, 2005 was the date. The Olympic Stadium in Sydney was the venue. And the occasion? The second leg of a qualification play-off for the 2006 World Cup, contested between Schwarzer’s Australia and Uruguay.
The first leg in Montevideo four days earlier had ended 1-0 to the Uruguayans. They had finished fifth in South American qualification, just as they had in 2001, and just as then the Oceania champions they had to face for a spot at the World Cup were Australia.
In 2001, Australia had taken a goal advantage to Montevideo but lost 3-0 in the second leg amid a hostile stay in the Uruguayan capital. That was just one of many factors that made the repeat fixture in 2005 so big.
‘Backing on from 2001, when we missed out at the final hurdle against Uruguay, we knew for a second occasion we were so close,’ Schwarzer explains.
‘In 2005 we were again playing Uruguay. People remembered very vividly how were we were treated when we first went to Uruguay in 2001 to play the return leg, and again we didn’t get treated very well when we went there in 2005. It added to the atmosphere and tension that was building up to the game. There was an atmosphere of revenge.
‘Australia at the time was going through a period when we had a few problems with racial tensions in the country. Football is a global game played all over the world, and Australia is made up of so many different nationalities, so that all added to the hotpot.
‘It was the one game in sporting history to date that has unified the whole of Australia on one night. People from all different backgrounds were bracing themselves up for the game, hoping to be able to celebrate. It showed what Australia was like and what it is about.’
The game itself was another closely-fought affair between two evenly-matched sides. As in the first leg the score was 1-0, but this time to the Australians. The Socceroos hadn’t qualified for a World Cup for over 30 years. They had fallen at the final stage on four occasions since 1974. To break that run, the team managed by Guus Hiddink would have to triumph on penalties. Enter Mark Schwarzer.
‘It was a little bit of a blur,’ smiles the keeper, recalling the shoot-out in which he made two outstanding saves as the Aussies won 4-2.
‘I’ve seen it many, many times and my kids have watched it. Whenever I watch it or think about it I get goosebumps. I’m getting goosebumps now!
‘It was an amazing experience to play in front of 83,000 people in a stadium that is iconic in Australian sporting history. The Olympics in 2000 were there, including when Cathy Freeman won the gold medal on home soil, and some huge rugby matches have been played there.
‘It changed the history of football in Australia because we hadn’t qualified for 32 years prior to that. We had gone however many tournaments and qualifying campaigns with the heartache of not qualifying for the next World Cup, so to be in a position where we could re-write the history books, in front of a huge and passionate crowd on home soil, was something very special.’
Schwarzer continued to do his nation proud when the 2006 World Cup came around, helping Australia qualify from a tough group that included Brazil, Japan and Croatia. In the round of 16 only a controversial last-minute penalty, converted by Francesco Totti, separated Australia and Italy. The Azzurri would go on to lift the trophy.
The 41-year-old describes that showpiece event in Germany as an ‘unbelievable experience and an unbelievable tournament.’ He also represented his nation at the 2010 World Cup before retiring from international football with 109 caps to his name in November 2013. It was not long after he had helped Australia qualify for this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
Though he will not be taking part for the first time in modern Australian football history, Schwarzer will understandably be keeping a close eye on the Socceroos’ progress in South America.
‘I’m hopeful we’ll do well in Brazil and I will be 100 per cent supporting them,’ he says. ‘It’s going to be really, really tough in a group with Spain, Holland and Chile.
‘There’s been a huge amount of change with the national team. Fingers crossed the guys that do go do a good job, and do Australia proud.’