Just as the Socceroos’ experience of Germany 2006 began so elatedly with a John Aloisi penalty kick against Uruguay last year, so it ended with a penalty kick by Italian Francesco Totti. Of course, the circumstances, the outcomes, and the reactions to the two kicks could not be more different.

Back on November 16, after Aloisi slotted his sport kick past Uruguayan goalkeeper Fabian Carini, the Socceroos had everything in front of them – months of training, friendlies, and then the tournament itself. They had just created history, both personal and national, and the sense of expectation was shared between players and fans.

Now, whether fairly or not, the World Cup is behind them. With just 12 seconds left on the clock, their future in the tournament was snatched away by a contentious penalty awarded in the box against Lucas Neill.

Ironically, Neill had been one of the standout performers during the event, but in a
tournament that is destined to be remembered for the impact of the referees, this time Neill was on the wrong side of Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo’s whistle.

Until that point, it had been a relatively even match. The Italians lived up to their reputation for defensive excellence. The Socceroos rarely threatened the goalface and without Harry Kewell’s run and creativity they looked much less dangerous than they have in any of their previous games.

Although they weren’t putting the Italian goalkeeper under great pressure, they were controlling the ball during general play, probing for openings, patiently waiting for their chance. During the first half, Italian striker Luca Toni had three chances to put the Azzuri ahead, but when the shots were on target, Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was up to the task.

Early in the second half, the tide turned Australia’s way with the sending off of Marco Materazzi’s in the 50th minute after a double-booted late challenge on Marco Bresciano. Five minutes later, Italian coach Marcello Lippi replaced Toni with defender Andrea Barzagli and his team looked to be playing for a draw. As the minutes ticked by, it became clear the Socceroos weren’t using the numerical advantage well enough, were failing to stretch the Italians out wide, and failed to create strong scoring chances.

Then in the 94th minute, the referee’s whistle cut through the roar of the crowd. Australian hands went to heads in disbelief, both on and off the field. A few moments later, the Socceroos were out of the tournament and Guus Hiddink was the Former Socceroo Coach. Roll on South Africa 2010.

Peter Fray

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