“Leadership.” It was the Labor Party’s failed slogan in Paul Keating’s 1996 election disaster. Great slogan, wrong leader, wrong contest. Last night, it was the magic elixir that propelled Australia to the World Cup finals.

Australia’s leaders stood up, and the battle was won: Harry Kewell, unleashed by his coach half an hour into the game, played a blinder, then stepped up and calmly slotted the first penalty home. Mark Schwarzer took everything the Uruguayans could throw at him, then made two crucial penalty saves.

John Aloisi slammed home the final penalty. Guus Hiddink calmly made the tactical moves that bamboozled his opponents, while his opposite number, Jorge Daniel Fossati, suffered a 120-minute meltdown on the sidelines.

They all showed leadership – an unblinking faith in their skills under fire. As, it must be noted, did Frank Lowy and John O’Neill in their drastic and far-sighted revamp of Australian soccer over the past two years.

And the others? Mark Viduka was captain in name, but when it came to the crunch, the big striker was unable to convert last night. A lesser coach might give Schwarzer the skipper’s
armband – Germany’s Ollie Kahn has shown how a powerful captain’s presence in goal can turn defence into attack. But that would be second-guessing Guus, who probably is even today turning his mind to making Viduka’s unpleasant experience a positive for Germany 2006.

Peter Fray

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