Socceroos at the World Cup: Previous Appearances and Qatar Prospects

​​In 2022, Australia will compete in the FIFA World Cup for the sixth time in the nation’s history, and the fifth time in succession. The current streak famously began back in 2006 following what many Australian football fans viewed as a cursed 32 years, but since John Aloisi’s legendary penalty in the 2005 qualifiers, the team hasn’t looked back. Let’s take a look at the history of the Socceroos, beginning way back in 1974 in West Germany and extending through to this year in Qatar.


1974 World Cup (West Germany)

1974 marked the first time in history that the Socceroos qualified for the FIFA World Cup, but it could easily have been very different. After finishing on top of their group in the qualifiers, Australia just scraped past Iran in Zone B Final of the AFC and OFC, before coming up against South Korea for a spot in West Germany. After drawing the first game 0-0, the second game was a 2-2 tie, meaning a playoff game at a neutral game was needed to determine the qualifier. After 70 minutes of goalless football, James Mackay scored a famous goal to give the Aussies a 1-0 lead which they would never relinquish.

As expected, however, things proved a little more difficult at the tournament proper. Under the tutelage of Rale Rašić and captained by Peter Wilson, Australia was placed into Group 1 alongside eventual winners West Germany as well as East Germany and Chile, and failed to trouble the scorers in three games. They lost the first 2-0 to East Germany, the second 3-0 to West Germany, before securing their only points of the tournament in their final game with a 0-0 draw against Chile.


2006 World Cup (Germany)

32 years and countless disappointments would pass without Australia competing in another World Cup, and when John Aloisi stepped up to the penalty spot with a chance to send the Socceroos to Germany, the country held its collective breath. When his kick sailed into the right corner of the net, the release was unlike anything seen in Australian football or indeed sport for many, many years.

And the exciting team, fielding names like Cahill, Kewell and captain Mark Viduka, wasn’t done there. Their first performance at the World Cup was one to behold; down 1-0 with just a few minutes to play in their opener against Japan, they went on an incredible spree, scoring three goals in eight minutes – two to Cahill and one to Aloisi via a penalty – to record their first World Cup win in history. They were outclassed by Brazil in their second game, but when Harry Kewell netted a 79th minute goal to lock the score up at 2-2 against Croatia in their third Group game, the team secured second spot in Group F and advanced to the Round of 16 for the first time ever.

 In that game, they were matched up against Italy – certainly no easy task, but the plucky Socceroos were up for a challenge. They held off the Italians for 94 minutes until, heartbreakingly, conceding a penalty in the 95th minute. Francesco Totti duly slotted it, crushing the dreams of the Aussies in the process. As if to make matters worse, Italy went on to win the World Cup, leaving Australian fans wondering what could have been.


2010 World Cup (South Africa)

After the simultaneous excitement and disappointment of their 2006 campaign, the Socceroos returned for another crack at the World Cup in 2010 with many of the same names that were so prominent four years earlier. With Pim Verbeek now at the helm and Lucas Neill leading the team on the pitch following Viduka’s retirement, the team qualified for this incarnation of the tournament far less dramatically than for the previous one, before being placed in Group D alongside Germany, Ghana and Serbia.

Things didn’t start well against the Germans, with the Socceroos battered 4-0 and Tim Cahill sent off in the 56th minute. They recovered against Ghana, however, to draw 1-1, before earning themselves a 2-1 victory against Serbia in their final game courtesy of goals by Cahill and Brett Holman. Unfortunately, that record of 1-1-1 saw them fall agonisingly short of advancing out of the Group Stage. Ghana shared the same record, but the Socceroos goal difference of -3 – attributable largely to that first game demolition against Germany – meant they finished third in the group.


2014 World Cup (Brazil)

After a couple of successful World Cup efforts in 2006 and 2010 – at least in comparison to their relatively unimposing record prior – expectations were a little lower surrounding the Socceroos heading into the 2014 event. The team was entering a new era following the retirement of a number of former stars, and since 2010 they had been gradually tumbling down the FIFA World Rankings. Still, they qualified relatively comfortably under new manager Ang Postecoglou, and were placed into a tough group alongside Netherlands, Chile and Spain.

As it turned out, the subdued expectations which surrounded the team proved justified. They were no match for Chile in their first game in Brazil, going down 3-1, and though they did manage to give the Netherlands a scare by taking a 2-1 lead in the second half, they ultimately went down 3-2 in that game. With their campaign all but over, they were beaten 3-0 by Spain to round out their tournament, ending up at the bottom of their group with three losses and a goal difference of -6. 


2018 World Cup (Russia)

After a period of regeneration, the Socceroos had begun to look a little more potent an outfit by the time the 2018 World Cup came around – not to the same extent as they did a decade earlier, but certainly more so than in 2014. With Graham Arnold as the fourth new manager in as many World Cups and Mathew Ryan the captain, they had to take the long route to the World Cup in Russia, finishing third in their group in the Third Round of the AFC Qualifications and having to beat first Syria and then Honduras to qualify for the tournament.

Once they did, they were placed into Group C alongside France, Denmark and Peru. France were their first opponent, and a tough one at that, but the Socceroos played well beyond expectations and had the game tied at 1-1 entering the final ten minutes. Unfortunately, an 81st minute own goal saw them go down 2-1. Next up they faced Denmark, and in a resolute performance forced a 1-1 draw. That could theoretically have given them a chance to advance heading into their final game, but the way other results panned out they wouldn’t have made it regardless of their performance against Peru; as it was, they went on to lose that game 2-0 and finish bottom of their group.


2022 World Cup (Qatar): Can The Socceroos Go One Better?

For a time it looked as though the Socceroos run of consecutive World Cup appearances might end in 2022, once again finishing third in the Third Round of AFC Qualifications. They went into their inter-confederation playoff against Peru as the underdogs, but defied the odds to win 5-4 on penalties and advance to the tournament proper for the fifth time in a row. At the event, which will take place in Qatar later this year, they will again be managed by Graham Arnold, making him the first manager to coach the Socceroos in multiple World Cups. Mathew Ryan will also once again captain the side.  

As luck would have it, the Aussies will once again face France and Denmark in the Group Stage, while Tunisia will make up the fourth member of the group. This will be a tough group to advance from for the Socceroos – France are the reigning champions and current fourth ranked side in the world, while Denmark is ranked #10 and Tunisia #30. Australia on the other hand is ranked #39.

Unsurprisingly, the Aussies aren’t expected to do too much damage this year – certainly not at the tail end of the tournament, where we are paying $401 for an unlikely Socceroos Qatar World Cup triumph. More realistic are their chances of advancing from Group D – at $4.60 they are still up against it to do so, but it’s certainly not out of the realms of possibility for the national side to advance to the Round of 16 for just the second time in their history. 

For a long time, the Socceroos history at the World Cup was one of anguish and disappointment, with repeated qualification near misses the story of the side for over 30 years. When John Aloisi’s successful penalty saw them advance into the 2006 World Cup, however, that all changed. What followed was what remains the team’s only foray past the Group Stage in history, though there have been a handful of positive results in recent years too. This year, the Socceroos went perilously close to missing out on qualification, but they scraped through and will head to Qatar in November for their fifth consecutive World Cup appearance. They might not be expected to advance past the Group Stage, but nor were they back in 2006, and stranger things have certainly happened in sport.