A history-making day for Australian soccer almost went out the window this morning because of an enormous blunder at the selection table. That’s the view of Australia’s goalkeeper in the 1974 World Cup, Jack Reilly, who told Crikey in no uncertain terms this morning from a mobile phone while driving from Stuttgart to Frankfurt airport an hour after the game about the blunder in dropping goal keeper Mark Schwarzer for AC Milan reserve Zeljko Kalac.

“Australia’s four coaches don’t seem to know anything about goalkeeping,” says Reilly. “More than anything else, goalkeeping is a confidence game, so why would you pick a guy who has only played a handful of games over the past year? They’ve potentially destroyed the confidence of both goalkeepers with this crazy decision which almost cost us the most important game in our history.”

Reilly conceded five goals at the 1974 World Cup when Australia lost 3-0 to West Germany and 2-0 to East Germany, but his clean sheet in the 0-0 draw with Chile was the finest achievement of his career.

Kalac’s aggressive comments about Schwarzer as he tried to crank up the pressure in the training camp before the first game have now come back to bite him in a big way. Try these arrogant comments for size:

“I think he’s more worried than I am. He’s got somebody on his back now. His form hasn’t been the best and he knows it. So now with me coming in to play against Greece, it’s not as easy as it was for him when his selection was somewhat automatic. That’s not the case any more, and some people feel the pressure when it’s like that.”

“I don’t feel any pressure, I’ve showed what I can do,” said Kalac, when asked after a third day of high intensity training whether he was also feeling the pressure. “All I’ve ever wanted is equal opportunity and that’s what I’m getting now.”

It was Kalac who clearly succumbed to the pressure in conceding that soft second half goal, demonstrating exactly why Schwarzer will be reinstated for the Italy game by a thoroughly relieved coaching panel who would have been hung, drawn and quartered if the referee had correctly ruled Harry Kewell was offside and Croatia had progressed.

Reilly predicted exactly that in this interview with Fox Sports on 4 June when he attacked Kalac’s poor form and big mouth before predicting: “If he played and something untoward happened, there would be a massive backlash.”

Hiddink combines genius and incompetence, but he was diplomatic in his post game interview and presumably delighted about an estimated $1 million performance bonus that will go his way which, incidentally, should be disclosed to the public given that we’re paying for it.

FFA chief executive John O’Neill also skirted around the Kalac’s performance on AM this morning when Tony Eastley’s opening question focused on the goal keeping selection blunder. Despite the euphoria, this issue will not go away.

Disclosure: Jack Reilly is a good mate and People Power candidate at the forthcoming Victorian election who is rushing back to Australia for a launch function next Thursday night which will probably turn into a World Cup debate. Also, my 106 year old English grandfather is from Middlesbrough, where Schwarzer has kept goals superbly for the past nine years so apologies for the blatant bias.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey