Opinion

When ‘golden boy’ Kewell gave Socceroos golden ticket

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ANALYSIS: In the face of adversity, the jaws of defeat and the edge of elimination: it just had to be Harry.

WATCH the next of our 10 FIFA World Cup classic matches – France v Argentina 2018 – this Thursday June 25 at 2:30pm (AEST) on SBS and streamed via The World Game website / app and SBS On Demand.

Australia’s “golden boy” – as Simon Hill so poetically put it – cemented his place in Socceroos history with a World Cup goal glittered in gold at the Gottlieb-Daimler-Stadion.

Having defeated Japan and fallen short of Brazil, Guus Hiddink’s side needed at least a point from Croatia to seal a precious place in the last 16 of FIFA’s showpiece event.

But while Kewell and co. approached the fixture brimming with confidence, Dario Srna quickly brought them back to earth with a fabulous free-kick two minutes into the contest.

Srna’s strike, one of wonder, had appeared to appease coach Zlatko Kranjcar, but his elation quickly evaporated as the first-half wore on.

Hiddink’s 3-4-2-1 formation – featuring Kewell and Tim Cahill in advanced roles behind Mark Viduka – caused problems for Croatia’s three-man defence, with Dario Simic, Stjepan Tomas and Josip Simunic forced to call for cover.

The Vatreni’s 3-5-2 setup sought a more compact approach as a result, with wing-backs Srna and Marko Babic made to work even harder in transition.

Croatia’s plan to counter only benefitted their opponents’ persistence in possession from then on and, in the 38th minute, they were painfully punished.

A bizarre brain-snap from Tomas saw the 30-year-old handle Brett Emerton’s cross inside the box - gifting Australia a penalty Craig Moore coolly converted.

Such a sight was a welcome one for the Socceroos, who had peppered Stipe Pletikosa’s goal to no avail throughout the first interval.

However, hopes of further success soon became despair after the restart, as Zeljko Kalac failed to keep out a long-range effort from captain Niko Kovac.

Kalac’s error sent a fresh wave of worry over the Australian faithful, but, to Kewell, it only motivated his countrymen.

“Kalac made a mistake which – again, in football, I can miss an easy chance – but not one of us got down about it,” Kewell told the Socceroos website. “We pushed and pushed again.”

The same mental fortitude that served the Socceroos well against Japan seemed to resurface during their Croatian deficit, and as the clock ticked towards the final 10 minutes, Kewell came to the fore.

“I always say to my wide players, ‘always get on the end of the box because, nine times out of 10, full-backs go to sleep’,” he said.

“I remember the cross came across and I remember making that run in there and I was gambling.

“There was about three or four people in between and the ball could have gone anywhere.”

Kewell’s back-post run evaded both Simic and the offside flag, before John Aloisi’s flick-on fell for a volley of pivotal proportions.

“Seeing that ball go into the back of the net – not only because it made it 2-2; I didn’t know it was going to take us through – but you can see the relief on my face because I just scored on the biggest stage of football,” he said.

“That goal became the goal that took us through to the last 16, which we were never expected to make.”

Kewell’s heroics were a just reward for a man-of-the-match performance synonymous with a feat the Socceroos have yet to match.

And while another place in the round of 16 remains a dream for the current crop, we can be forever thankful for the day one legend made his a reality.