It’s the most tumultuous World Cup game the Socceroos have ever played – one that got more and more out of control as it rolled on, before ending in one of the nation’s finest-ever sporting accomplishments.
Both Australia and Croatia, working with the assumption that Brazil would beat Japan, had a simple scenario – a win for either would put them through, with a draw enough for the Socceroos.
As he did in the win against Japan, John Aloisi was called off the bench in the second half.
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“That was just pure chaos,” Aloisi told Wide World of Sports.
Guus Hiddink got a lot right tactically in his time in charge, but raised plenty of eyebrows when it was announced that goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer had been benched for Zeljko Kalac, the AC Milan back-up who had seldom featured in club football in the 12 months leading in.
Kalac’s first official duty as a World Cup player was to watch as a free kick from Darijo Srna sailed past the wall, and beyond the keeper’s desperate dive.
“It didn’t seem like there was much structure towards the game and that’s what happens when both teams need a result,” Aloisi said.
Australia had a couple of penalty shouts turned down by referee Graham Poll, including what was described as a “rugby tackle” by Josip Simunic on Mark Viduka.
Nobody knew it at the time, but both Poll and Simunic were about to become embroiled in one of the biggest controversies in World Cup history.
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But while Australia were left fuming on a couple of occasions, Poll couldn’t ignore a blatant handball from Stjepan Tomas, and up stepped Craig Moore to calmly slot home from the spot.
The Aussies went into half-time with their tails up, knowing a draw was enough – but were up against the wall 10 minutes after the restart, as Niko Kovac’s low shot was hit straight at Kalac, but somehow squirted through the goalkeeper and trickled over the line.
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Advantage Croatia – but the Socceroos weren’t done.
“The calmest head, and the ones that remain calm in that situation, that chaotic situation, that will normally come out on top,” Aloisi said.
Simunic picked up a yellow card for a foul on Harry Kewell on the hour mark, while Hiddink emptied his bench by subbing in Aloisi, Mark Bresciano, and Josh Kennedy within 12 minutes of each other.
“Just thinking about the game and what it was like for me on the pitch – I’ve got Josh Kennedy next to me, Mark Viduka next to me.
“So that’s three main strikers, all on the same pitch, and then you’ve got Harry Kewell, Mark Bresciano – just all out attacking players.”
The last 10 minutes of this game were as frantic as it gets – Kewell’s equalizer, from Aloisi’s flick on, made it 2-2 and the Socceroos were moments away from the last 16 of the tournament.
Dario Simic was sent off for two yellow cards, then Brett Emerton followed moments later. It was 10 against 10, but it should have been 10 against nine.
“Then there’s the yellow card issue with Simunic,” Aloisi said.
The Australian-born defender was shown a second yellow card in the dying embers of normal time, but inexplicably, stayed on the field. Croatia then pushed and pushed for a winner but it never came.
Right at the death, Aloisi bundled the ball home, only for a whistle to deny him his second goal of the tournament. Poll had signaled for the end of the game, but as a furious Simunic approached him after the final whistle, finally showed the defender a third yellow card and then a red.
Aloisi still remembers bizarre disallowed goal
It was a bizarre situation for Aloisi, who immediately had to juxtapose the feelings of having a goal disallowed for no reason with those of Australia securing a spot in the knockout stages.
“I went straight up to Graham Poll as soon as he blew the whistle thinking that he’d whistled for a free kick, then I realized it was full time,” he said.
“I asked him ‘why did you blow the whistle? The ball was in the back of the net virtually,’ and he said ‘don’t worry you’re through, you should celebrate’ and I said ‘yeah but we could have won the game, I could have had another goal at a World Cup!'”
“I was gutted for about 20 seconds and then after that I just started celebrating because we were through – but it’s one of those things that lives with me because I could have had another goal at a World Cup, how good would that have been? ”
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