It took over 1000 days, but our Socceroos will be at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
48 players played their part on the Road to Qatar, with over a quarter of these having spent time inside the four walls of City at some point of their footballing journey.
A perfect start to qualification
The long road began in Kuwait back in September 2019. Mathew Leckie, then plying his trade for Hertha BSC in the Bundesliga, netted a brace inside the first half hour before former City midfielder Aaron Mooy added his name to the scoresheet to seal a comfortable 3-0 win.
A month later, it was all about Jamie Maclaren. City’s number nine netted a maiden international hattrick in a 5-0 win over Nepal in Canberra.
He was on the scoresheet again just days later in another comprehensive win, this time against Chinese Taipei. This was his fifth goal for the national team and came a match before the Socceroos unknowingly played their final World Cup Qualifier for 18 months in a win over Jordan.
The Road to Qatar hits pause
Thus began a lengthy period of nothingness for our Men’s national team. Football was put on hold as the world came to grips with the Coronavirus pandemic, putting World Cup qualification to the back of minds, at least for the time being.
Domestic football returned to Australia in November 2020, although the Socceroos wouldn’t be back on the international stage until the pointy end of the A-League season, over six months later.
‘Roos return to action
We’re sure you’ll remember that the Socceroos return to World Cup Qualifiers clashed with the 2021 A-League Finals, leaving City without a trio of its stars.
This ultimately would still work out for both parties, City securing its maiden Men’s Championship while the Socceroos won all four of its June 2021 qualifiers in some tough Kuwait conditions.
It was a big couple of weeks for Leckie, who was twice on the scoresheet while also announced as a City player while in camp.
Maclaren appeared in three out of the four fixtures and converted a penalty against Chinese Taipei, in a match that was a memorable one for a City Academy duo. Denis Genreau and Connor Metcalfe both made their Socceroos debuts, becoming the second and third City Academy products to appear for the national team.
The win streak rolls on without a few familiar faces
By this point, the Socceroos were a perfect eight wins from eight World Cup Qualifiers and dealing comfortably with all challenges it faced after seeing off the second phase of qualification.
A pair of September fixtures against China and Vietnam were up next, respective 3-0 and 1-0 results extending the winning streak to double figures. These fixtures were played with a largely European-based squad due to quarantine and travel restrictions at the time, meaning no City players were part of that squad.
This remained the case for the next window which saw a mixed bag of results. History was created against Oman when Australia became the first nation to record 11 consecutive wins in any World Cup qualifying campaign, but we were quickly brought back to earth with a 2-1 loss away to Japan a few matches later.
This third phase of qualification continued to prove to be much harder a month later in November when the Socceroos returned home.
Back home, back at full strength
After two years on the road, our Men’s national team were finally back on home soil on 11 November 2021 against Saudi Arabia. The likes of Leckie, Maclaren and Andrew Nabbout all made their returns to camp, the latter making his first Socceroos appearance since the 2019 Asian Cup.
Unfortunately, the homecoming wasn’t marked with a win, a 0-0 draw at Western Sydney Stadium the result with a 1-1 away draw to China in the following days wrapping up the final international window of 2021.
2022 began in much better fashion though, the Socceroos welcomed back to Melbourne in front of almost 30,000 people – of which we’re sure many were City fans! Who else but the A-Leagues’ all-time leader scorer at AAMI Park, Jamie Maclaren, opened scoring in a strong 4-0 win to the Socceroos.
Former Heart/City men Craig Goodwin and Riley McGree got their names on the scoresheet moments before current City attacker Marco Tilio made his Socceroos debut.
Playing on a pitch he knew well, Tilio dazzled the crowd and caused issues for the Vietnam defence in a memorable cameo where he was could’ve easily scored a maiden international goal.
Down, but not out
It was back to more frustration soon after, with just one point coming from the next three Qualifiers as the Socceroos saw its path to World Cup take a turn down the Playoff route.
Maclaren was on the scoresheet in a 2-2 draw to Oman, Metcalfe made his first international start in an 0-2 loss to Japan, and then Nathaniel Atkinson became the fourth City Academy product turned Socceroo in the final qualifier, a 1-0 loss to Saudi Arabia.
Playoff perfection in Doha
Onto the Playoffs it was with a match against UAE – then Peru if successful – on the cards.
Leckie was named in the starting XI for the UAE clash, beginning the fixture as a number 9 before moving out wide after the introduction of Club teammate Maclaren with 20 minutes to play.
Maclaren looked dangerous and almost converted a half-chance on a tight angle, before Ajdin Hrustic would find the eventual winner.
Little under a week later, thousands of fans watched on eagerly from their lounge rooms as the Socceroos faced Peru for a spot in the World Cup.
Leckie was again named in the starting line-up, while three former City stars in Mooy, Atkinson and Aziz Behich joined him in the XI.
Leckie worked hard down the left for 87 minutes before Maclaren replaced him as the Intercontinental Playoff seemed destined for extra time.
Neither side could find a way past the ‘keeper over the additional period, so penalties it was.
The shootout was delicately poised at 3-3 when Maclaren stepped up. A miss would’ve left Australia in the vulnerable position of needing to save the next penalty to stay alive, but the City number nine showed nerves of steel, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way and tucking his attempt into the bottom left corner.
Moments later, the Socceroos led 5-4 and with a Peru kick to come, up stepped goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne who had been subbed on especially for the shootout. With the weight of a country on his shoulders, Redmayne, who’d made 49 appearances for Heart/City from 2013-2015, guessed the correct way and ensured the Socceroos would play at a fifth consecutive World Cup.
City’s Road to Qatar Honour Roll