SYDNEY: Australia ended 32 years of heartbreaking defeats on Wednesday to beat Uruguay on penalties and qualify for next year’s World Cup in Germany.
Striker John Aloisi scored the decisive penalty after goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer pulled off two brilliant saves to send the capacity crowd of 83,000 into wild celebrations.
Australia, who had suffered a series of agonising losses in their previous World Cup playoffs, won the shootout 4-2 after the home side won 1-0 after extra time for an aggregate 1-1 draw.
It was the first time that a penalty shootout victory has led directly to a place in the World Cup finals.
“Tonight we have realised a dream not only of the players but for everybody associated with soccer in Australia,” defender Lucas Neill said. “We’ve all had fun picking our favourite team (to support) in the World Cup but now we can choose Australia. It’s something you dream about all your life.”
Australia’s Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, who steered the Netherlands and South Korea to the World Cup semi-finals, said his team had achieved something special.
“We only had a few weeks together, it wasn’t very long,” he said. “But this is a great bunch of guys, they really wanted this and worked hard for it.”
Uruguay, World Cup champions in 1930 and 1950, had won the first leg of the playoff 1-0 in Montevideo on Saturday but were outplayed by an Australian team who squared the tie at 1-1 with a first half goal from Marco Bresciano. Neither side was able to score in regulation or extra time, forcing the match into the agony of the shootout. Harry Kewell, Neill and Tony Vidmar all converted from the spot to give Australia a 3-1 lead after Schwarzer pulled off a one-handed save from Dario Rodriguez.
The crowd fell silent when Australian captain Mark Viduka pushed his shot wide but roared back into life as Schwarzer saved Marcelo Zalayeta’s attempt and Aloisi slammed the ball into the back of the net to end Australia’s long wait.
“We thought it was going to happen. We’ve been dreaming of this for 32 years,” said Aloisi. “You couldn’t ask for a better finish, with 83,000 people here to watch us and 20 million people in Australia following us. I just can’t believe it,” added the Alaves forward.