It would be fair to say Mark Schwarzer could have played in his third World Cup for Australia, a feat still unattained by an Australian, had he not suddenly made his international retirement at the age of 41 years and 30 days.
Sure, he would have been the oldest goalkeeper to have played in the finals (older than Dino Zoff, who captained Italy to victory in 1982 at 40 years, 4 months and 13 days). But seven months out from the event there had been no tangible sign that age has caught up with him. Only recently he kept two clean sheets for Chelsea in the League Cup and he continues to enjoy Jose Mourinho’s faith as the club’s back-up keeper.
The only pity is that his last game for Australia, where he earned his record 109th cap, was a 6-0 loss to Brazil, a drubbing in which Schwarzer’s goalkeeping was not culpable.
Thankfully his international career is unlikely to be tainted by the memory of the carnage in Brasilia, but rather remembered most affectionately for two amazing games in which he saved Australia’s World Cup bacon.
The first came in 1993, just his second game for his country, when he saved two penalties in a shootout at the end of a dramatic qualifier against Canada at the Sydney Football Stadium. Schwarzer’s saves kept Australia in the World Cup, sending the team into a famous two-legged play-off against Diego Maradona’s Argentina.
The second was his famous two saves in the penalty shootout against Uruguay in 2005, which effectively sent Australia into its first World Cup finals in 32 years.
There may have been better Socceroo goalkeepers down the years, but none will be remembered more affectionately because of those two events.
Australia always had quality goalkeepers, but Schwarzer is of a particularly shining generation. Born and bred of German immigrant parents in Richmond in Sydney’s northwest, he is a contemporary of two other extremely gifted custodians, Mark Bosnich and Zeljko Kalac. The three amassed an amazing 180 caps between them.
During their parallel careers, when things were going well for all three, Bosnich was the clear number one choice by successive national coaches Eddie Thomson and Terry Venables. At one point the regularity with which he was overlooked, Schwarzer’s patience was tested. In 1997, during the Venables era, Schwarzer actually made himself unavailable for the national team, so tired had he become of warming the bench or being left out of the squad altogether. He relented once Frank Farina became national coach and in 2000 called him into camp.
Indeed it would be fair to say Schwarzer would unlikely have been able to collate 109 caps had Bosnich’s career not gone off the rails in 2002 when he was just 30 and the regular first choice.
But once the opening came, Schwarzer took it and had been a model of consistency ever since. The only blip came during the 2006 World Cup, when he was dropped for the Croatia game by Guus Hiddink, who blamed him for the three goals conceded in Australia’s opening two games against Japan and Brazil. But he returned for the next game, against Italy, and since then his position and status as Australia’s first choice goalkeeper was never challenged.
That was seven years and 95 games ago, an amazing run for a national team player under any comparison.
Schwarzer has been a model professional throughout career. Hard work was his friend, not his enemy. I recall seeing him leave the hotel in Montevideo on matchday, at 7am on a cold morning, fully gloved for a private workout. That was his matchday routine throughout his long career.
And I can personally vouch that the media, for instance, has never had a problem with him.
As I write, the reason for Schwarzer’s sudden announcement is unclear. Perhaps there will be an extra chapter to his book, released in 2006. And, let’s be honest, there could not have been a guarantee that new coach Ange Postecoglou would have persevered with him as much as his predecessor, Holger Osieck, did and that his dream of a third World Cup would have become a reality.
What is undeniable is that Australia and Australian football has been enriched by his service and yen for heroism between the posts.