Opinion

How Hiddink surprised Socceroos in Kaiserslautern

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ANALYSIS: In 2006, the Socceroos sparked an unforgettable FIFA World Cup campaign, but how it all started in Kaiserslautern came as no surprise to one Guus Hiddink.

WATCH our next of 10 FIFA World Cup classic matches - Argentina v England from the 1998 World Cup -  Thursday June 4 at 2:30pm (AEST) on SBS and streamed via The World Game website / app and SBS On Demand.

Having returned to the World Cup for the first time in 32 years, and fresh off the back of that win over Uruguay, the Socceroos entered an arena rather unknown to Australian football.

However, in Hiddink, they had a coach with both the credibility and wherewithal to harvest the hopes of a nation and galvanise their ‘Golden Generation’.

Self-belief was near non-existent before the Dutchman’s Australian arrival some 12 months prior, but as Japan stood face-to-face in the sunlit Fritz-Walter-Stadion, a newfound level of faith was formed.

It took no more than 10 minutes for the Socceroos to assert their energetic selves onto the contest, with captain Mark Viduka twice stinging the palms of goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi.

A first-half played at a rapid pace saw both sides press with a purpose, often utilising their wing-backs within identical 3-5-2 formations.

For every time Brett Emerton tucked inside for the overlapping Luke Wilkshire, so too did Hidetoshi Nakata for the Brazilian-born Alex.

It was going to take a slice of luck to separate the Socceroos from the Samurai Blue, but, with 26 minutes gone, it was Japan who found fortune first - much to Mark Schwarzer’s anger.

Shunsuke Nakamura’s floated delivery avoided the onrushing Middlesbrough man, who was left in a frustrated heap following a collision with Naohiro Takahara.

The nature of the goal seemed to incite a more physical affair from then on and referee Essam Abdel-Fatah was only too happy to oblige.

As the Japanese setup sat deeper in response to Australia’s second-half advancements, it was Hiddink and not the normally astute Zico who made the first change - one now synonymous with Socceroos history.

Understandably frustrated at his failure to enter the fray from the off, Tim Cahill replaced Mark Bresciano with a plan to make an impact and, 30 minutes later, he did just that.

With six minutes to go and the Socceroos flooding forward in search of an equaliser, a long Lucas Neill throw-in caught Kawaguchi out of position and the ever-alert Cahill made no mistake.

Such a relief seemed to spur Hiddink’s side on and, with only a minute of regulation time remaining, it was Cahill who came to the fore once again.

The Everton star’s spectacular strike sparked jubilant scenes on the pitch, in the stands and back home in Australia, and John Aloisi’s driving run some three minutes later only increased their elation.

Two substitutions, three goals, eight minutes, all in the shadow of full-time - that was the nature of Australia’s historic 3-1 comeback victory; a lesson in self-belief and an outcome not even Cahill expected.

“Guus Hiddink took us away and he made us machines,” Cahill said in the SBS documentary Two Weeks In June.

“We found another gear that we didn’t know we had.”

That gear gave birth to a World Cup campaign yet to be repeated by a Socceroos side and while it contained its fair share of doubt and adversity, you always felt ‘Aussie Guus’ was in control.