Thursday 07 May 2020, 04:19

Socceroo great Kewell relives World Cup memories

  • Harry Kewell talks through Australia’s memorable Germany 2006 journey

  • Kewell scored landmark goal as Socceroos reached knockout stage

  • Kewell says Italy were “scared” of losing against Australia in 2006

Harry Kewell has revealed some of his emotions from Australia’s ground-breaking 2006 FIFA World Cup™ campaign.

Arguably the greatest player to pull on the Green and Gold, Kewell was front and centre throughout the campaign - from Australia’s long-awaited qualification success, through to the goal which sent the team into the knockout stage to their dramatic last-gasp exit against eventual champions Italy.

The Sydney-born Kewell enjoyed a long and successful club career at Leeds United, Liverpool and Galatasaray, notably winning the UEFA Champions League in 2005.

But the rich prize of a FIFA World Cup appearance remained elusive until Australia ended a 32-year drought with qualification for Germany 2006.

As a 17-year-old, Kewell had scored twice in the intercontinental play-off against IR Iran eight years earlier, only for Australia to spurn a two-goal advantage and miss qualification in another dramatic chapter in the Socceroos' story.

Star player Kewell seemed a certainty to start in a two-legged play-off against Uruguay in November 2005.

“I wasn’t fully fit, so I didn’t think I was going to start in Uruguay,” Kewell told Football Federation Australia. “But I remember playing a full game and I was exhausted.

Mark Schwarzer saves a penalty against Uruguay, 16 Novermber 2005

“I thought I played well in Montevideo and felt comfortable, so going back to Australia I thought, ‘Well we’re 1-0 down, he’s definitely going to start me. There’s no question about that'."

Australia’s enigmatic Dutch coach Guus Hiddink had other ideas.

“I remember thinking ‘Are you serious? Really?’ As any professional player, you would be lying if you didn’t say you felt hurt. But then you put your head back on and say, ‘Well I don’t play an individual sport - I play a team sport'. ”

Benched though he was, an injury saw Kewell enter the fray after just half an hour, and he went on to have a hand in the crucial goal within a matter of minutes as Australia finally secured passage to world football’s greatest stage.

A 3-1 win over Japan and a 2-0 loss against Brazil left Australia requiring a draw in the final group match against Croatia. The Socceroos were just 11 minutes from exiting when Kewell swept home the equaliser.

“It was great to see that ball go into the back of the net,” Kewell said. “I think you can see the relief on my face because I’d just scored on the biggest stage of football.

“Not only because it made it 2-2; I didn’t know (at the time if) it was going to get us through, because we didn't know the Japan score.”

Kewell, however, missed the last-16 encounter against Italy - which remains Australia’s only World Cup knockout stage match to date - due to an infected toe.

Australia pushed the ten-man champions-elect to the brink before suffering last-minute heartbreak with a hotly-contested penalty converted by Francesco Totti.

“We knew it was going to be difficult but at any given moment that was the time to take Italy down because they had ten men,” Kewell said.

“I think in that game the only thing we lacked was someone for us to break through the final third. I so wish now that I was playing in that game, even if I played only 45 minutes or half an hour.

“I know they were scared because Totti blasted the ball. When you blast the ball it means that you hit it as hard as you can and just hope that the keeper doesn’t go the right way.”

Kewell went on to play at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, ending his national team career in 2012 with 58 caps.

Harry Kewell of Australia tackles Darijo Srna of Croatia