The team was a healthy mixture of players of diverse backgrounds and with experience from European leagues: this included an experienced defence with the Middlesborough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer on goal, Crystal Palace defender Tony Popovic, Blackburn right back Lucas Neill, and Craig Moore from Glasgow Rangers. The team also had very skilled strikers in the form of Millwall’s Tim Cahill, Osasuna’s John Aloisi and the Leeds United strikers Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell (the latter was nevertheless injured for this match).
The Australians had surprised everyone by unexpectedly going through on second spot in a rather difficult group: they had opened by defeating Japan 3-1, and had in the second match put up an excellent fight against the Brazilian world champions, but still lost 2-0. In their last match they managed 2-2 against Croatia in a dramatic match, which effectively put them in the second round, where Italy was awaiting.
Italy was looking strong without forcing it. They had won their group by defeating Ghana and the Czech republic and tying the USA. As usual, the team coached by Marcelo Lippi did not play any exciting football, but had some outstanding players on all positions, particularly in defence that included Inter’s Fabio Cannavaro (that year to be given the prize as World Player of the year) and Marco Materazzi, Juventus’ Gianlucca Zambrotta and the excellent defensive midfielder from AC Milan Gennaro Gattuso. In midfield Italy had the elegant AS Roma player Francesco Totti, although he surprisingly did not start in for this match, but was replaced by Juventus’ Alessandro Del Piero.
The first half of the match was very equal with both teams standing well in defence. The best chances went to the Italian strikers Luca Toni from Brescia and Verona’s Alberto Gilardino. Toni came very close to scoring on a header after only three minutes, and an excellent turn-around shot that was well saved by Schwarzer. Gilardino had a good volley that the Australian goallie also saved. With 0-0 at halftime Italy should probably have been in the lead, but Australia had not played badly.
Five minutes into the second half things changed: Marco Materazzi was given a very harsh red card by the Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo for a tackle on Marco Bresciano. One man down, Italy lost some of its power going forward, and Australia started to dominate possession. However, it proved difficult for the Australians to create chances confronted with the excellent Italian defenders. The FC Basel midfielder Scott Chipperfield had a good shot that was saved by Gianluca Buffon, but otherwise the Asutralians seemed afraid to risk more in attack by opening too much in the back against deadly Italian counter-attacks. Thus, the match went into a relative stalemate and everyone was expecting that the match would end goalless. But in the fourth minute of added time, Fabio Grosso got through on the left side, and entered the Australian penalty box. Lucas Neill tried to tackle rather clumsily and Fabio Grosso immediately let himself fall in the area. Perhaps it was to compensate for the harsh dismissal against Materazzi, but the Spanish referee gave the Italians the penalty kick from a situation that would not normally be given.
Francesco Totti, who had come in to replace Del Piero in the second half, kept his head cool and scored. The referee blew the whistle to end the match a few seconds later. Italy was in the quarter-finals.
Australia was out, but Italy in fact went on to become world champions, after defeating Ukraine, the German hosts, and France in the final. Australia’s feat was in the face of this all the more impressive, and perhaps a premonition of things to come for the “socceroos” (and may I add that they should change this stupid name).
- 26th June, 2006, Fritz Walter Stadium, Kaiserslautern
- Attendance: 46,000
- Referee: Luis Medina Cantalejo (Spain)
Goals:1-0 Totti (pen) (90+5)
Italy: Buffon; Cannavaro, Grosso, Gatuso, Zambrotta, Perrotta, Pirlo, Matterazzi (RC, 50), Del Piero (Totti), Toni (Barzagli), Gilardino (Iaquinta)
Australia: Schwarzer; Neill, Moore, Cahill, Culina, Viduka, Grella, Chipperfield, Wilkshire, Sterjovski (Aloisi), Bresciano