Instant Replay: Australia vs Japan (2006 FIFA World Cup)

By Alex Mitchell

Welcome to episode two of Instant Replay, where Alex Mitchell and friends will be breaking down old sporting matches and movies for your isolation entertainment. Episode one - a deep-dive on 2005 film Goal! - can be found here.

Australia waited 32 long years between FIFA World Cup appearances, but wasted little time creating magical moments once back on the grandest stage of them all.

Few Aussies would forget 2005’s dramatic qualifier win against Uruguay — two penalty shoot-out saves from Mark Schwarzer and a clutch spot-kick from John Aloisi sending the Socceroos to the 2006 finals in Germany — but it was the side’s first match once there that perhaps remains our nation’s most pivotal footballing moment.

In a group that also included Brazil and Croatia, Australia’s first match was against Japan,and what transpired contained the most outstanding 10 minutes of football the Socceroos will ever produce.

For the second edition of Instant Replay, Alex Mitchell (virtually) caught up with his school friends — Felix, Max, Stuart and Will — to drink in Australia’s famous victory.

Overall thoughts?

Alex: A night Australian football fans will never forget. I watched this match as a 12-year-old, but it sticks in my brain as one of my favourite sporting moments, and perhaps the first time sport got me emotional.

The game in a nutshell for those that haven’t rewatched; Australia looks the better side early, but Japan scores first on 26 minutes via a Shunsuke Nakamura cross Australlian keeper Schwarzer was unable to collect as he was crunched by another Japanese player. Things looked dire, but up stepped substitute Cahill, finding an equaliser from close range on 84 minutes before a banger five minutes later gave the Socceroos the lead. Fellow substitute Aloisi put the game to bed in stoppage time, finishing off a lovely run for the full-time 3-1 scoreline.

Will: It ticks all the boxes as a game Australia initially lets you down, Mark Bresciano misses a free kick, Josh Kennedy comes on and is agonisingly bad up front. Then Timmy comes on and begins the only good tradition we have at World Cups him being clutch as and scoring great goals.

Best moments?

Alex: Cahill gave Australia the magical World Cup moments it had craved for decades in his two-goal display. The opener felt more like relief than anything, but the second was genuinely exhilarating as it dawned on the nation we would win our first World Cup match.

Stuart: Tim’s first for me; you’d just started to sense we weren’t going to score a goal all tournament. It was just as you were considering giving up and going to bed too.

Felix: Some lighter observations; Australia coach Guus Hiddink just shoved a Japanese assistant coach on the touchline and really should have been sent to the stands. Japan coach Zico also subbed on Teruyuki Moniwa in the 56th minute before subbing him off in stoppage time — subbing a sub is one of football’s ultimate insults.

Alex: I love how Hiddink didn’t even smile when we won — it was just a business transaction he reckons.

Heroes and villains?

Alex: The biggest winner of this match, the tournament and even the years succeeding it, is Hiddink. He got us to the Cup, got us the furthest we have been (to this day), and while we’ve won the 2015 Asian Cup since, we’ve done nothing at the multiple cups we’ve been at. Hiddink since then took Russia to the Euro 2008 semi-finals, and won the FA Cup with Chelsea in one of two caretaker spells. God, were we lucky to have him.

The Japanese team was reasonably likeable and by no means were villains — that title belongs to Egyptian referee Essam Abd El Fatah and his assistants. Missing the foul on Schwarzer for the goal was unforgivable; not only did the Japanese player crunch our guy Mark, he looked reasonably offside when he did it too.

What aged well?

Alex: When you reflect on the match, you just sort of remember the final 10 minutes, but we actually played pretty well and created a lot of chances. But what aged best was certainly the loaded squad Australia took to the World Cup. With players like Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Cahill, Schwarzer, Lucas Neill, Bresciano — and the list certainly could go on — there’s a reason this was our ‘golden generation'. All bar three of the 23-man squad were based in Europe at the time, and that showed.

What aged badly?

Alex: Where are we at on Tim Cahill? He’s given us these goals, arguably the two biggest goals in Australian football, and scored at the next two World Cups including that naughty volley against the Netherlands. Add to this a huge role in qualifying for four World Cups and you’d think his legacy is unquestionable, but I don’t think that’s the case.

Stuart: That 2006 Socceroos team is like a great Australian cricket team there's about two people from each team that haven’t become unlikable in the long-term. But also there’s an overwhelming urge to give any of that a team a hug if you saw them in person.

Felix: I don’t like Cahill now because he’s spent a decade creating the ‘Tim Cahill’ brand, which involves picturing himself as the single saviour of Australian football.

Alex: Refusing to head to the A-League because it lacked vision then coming when he was offered enough coin, celebrating like an aeroplane after a goal for an endorsement, and becoming an ambassador for Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup, a country with a questionable-at-best human rights record. The words money-hungry are the only ones that spring to mind that are fit to print.

Never forget?

Alex: There was a huge penalty shout for Japan at the other end before Cahill put us in front. We’ll get to some sliding door moments in a second, but that is certainly one.

Felix: Boy oh boy, was football scrappy then. A good thing is that it’s towards the end of ‘football’s a contact sport’, so occasionally you’ll see some fella absolute clatter someone and the referee just says ‘nothing to see here’. I find football so much more watchable these days.

Sliding doors?

Alex: What if Cahill doesn’t come on for Bresciano in the 53rd minute? What if he doesn’t score two goals of the highest importance? Just how differently could Australian football be viewed if — for example — the Socceroos lost that match 1-0, missed the second round of the World Cup, and continued on for similar results in the following years?

Felix:Surely it’s the moment that got the mainstream truly interested in football, all the current dudes like Mat Ryan, Aaron Mooy and Tommy Rogic looked up to this team. Without that win does Australia care about football? Maybe not, you could see everyone losing interest because relatively speaking, we suck. Does the ‘Golden Generation’ (Kewell, Viduka, Cahill, Schwarzer et al) lose its reputation a bit? Yes.

Alex: There’s a world where we lose this game, and continue on to make it four straight first-round World Cup exits. In that case, we aren’t just struggling to re-scale mountains, we’re still looking to climb them for the first time.

Commentary corner

“And then poked home by Tim Cahill — Australia has done it. Six minutes to go, and it’s a landmark moment for Australian football.”

“Cahill, CAHILL. Tim Cahill has done it again. What a goal by Tim Cahill, 2-1 Australia.”

Alex: Legendary commentary from Simon Hill, particularly the first call; there’s a lovely subtlety to his commentary, something I also hear in the great Martin Tyler. The passion Hill had for the side after following its journey to Germany is easy to hear, his commentary for all three goals getting the hairs on the back on the neck standing at attention.

Style guide

Alex: Hiddink knew he was a great manager and didn't feel the need to suit and boot and dress the part. He just slapped on a white shirt and business slacks and let his play do the talking.

Felix: It's probably a nit-pick, but Harry Kewell made a mistake when he got rid of the luscious locks man-bun set-up he rocked against Uruguay. But this is perhaps the best Socceroos kit of all-time, and top-three at worst.

More Instant Replays

Episode one - Goal!