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Australia’s first World Cup campaign revisited

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There are a few countries in the world that can claim to be internationally competitive across a wide range of sporting disciplines. Australia is one of the few.

A former member of Oceania Football Confederation, Australia has been one of the major forces in team sports like cricket and rugby and are consistently among the top medal winners at the Olympics. However, they haven’t had quite the same success in world’s most loved sport: football. One of the main reasons for their poor showing in football was the disdain with which the game was seen among the general population. The majority deemed it as the game of sheilas, wogs and poofters; and therefore, preferred to take up other sports.

Football has made rapid strides down under in recent years but one of their greatest successes came back in 1974 when Australia’s first World Cup campaign started in West Germany.

Led by coach Rale Rasic, Australia were placed in the first qualifying round that also included trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand, Indonesia, and Iraq. The Socceroos finished undefeated after their six games and with three wins and as many draws they topped the group to make it to the pre-final qualifying round.

They met one of the Asian powerhouses, Iran, and dispatched them 3-0 at home before losing 2-0 in the away leg to secure a 3-2 aggregate win. With the victory they earned the right to play in the final qualifying round against South Korea for a place in the 1974 World Cup.

The South Koreans proved to be an extremely tough cookie as they managed to secure a scoreless draw in Sydney. Australia came from two goals down in the return leg to secure a 2-2 draw but in the absence of the away goals rule, a playoff had to be played at a neutral venue. The Aussies managed a 1-0 win in Hong Kong to create history by qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in their history.

In the tournament proper they were drawn in the same group as hosts West Germany, their feisty neighbours East Germany, and Chile. Australia’s opening game against East Germany ended up in a 2-0 defeat for the debutantes. Colin Curran inadvertently scored an own goal in the 58th minute to give East Germans the lead before Joachim Streich scored 12 minutes later to secure all three points.

Next up for the Socceroos were the tournament hosts, who were led by legendary Franz Beckenbauer. Australia were up against one of the tournament favourites and their task was cut out for them. Wolfgang Overath scored in the 12th minute to put the West Germans ahead and on the 35th minute mark Bernhard Cullmann doubled the hosts’ lead. The prolific Gerd Muller than scored in the 53rd minute to compound the Socceroos’ misery and put the result beyond doubt; it eventually finished 3-0.

Last game of Australia’s first World Cup campaign was against Chile and with nothing but pride to play for they managed to hold the South Americans to a scoreless draw to secure their first point at a FIFA World Cup.

After Australia’s first World Cup entry it would be 32 years before they would play in another World Cup.