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Friday, May 28, 2010

World Cup Stories - Never stiff a witchdoctor

Australia 2006

Until recently, by virtue of its geographic undesirability, Australia has had the odd predicament in World Cup qualifying rounds of being grouped as part of what is called Oceania which has never been given an automatic spot in the finals. They were required to play a play-off leg with a nation from another group to ultimately qualify. In 1970 they had to play Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in neighboring Mozambique. They hired a witchdoctor, buried bones near the goal-posts and cursed their opponents. They duly won the game, but when they couldn’t come up with the money to pay the witchdoctor, he then reversed the curse.

They qualified for West Germany in 1974 but failed to score in three games and were quickly eliminated, thus beginning a tale of futility that culminated in 2002 when, ten minutes away from a place in the finals, they gave up two goals to Iran and failed to qualify. In 2004, a local TV personality, John Saffran journeyed to Mozambique to reverse the curse. It involved sitting in the center circle of the pitch with chicken blood among other things, but the curse was apparently lifted. A thirty-two year wait was over and Australia qualified for the finals in Germany in 2006.

Their first game was a must-win against Japan considering their next opponent was the mighty Brazil. With seven minutes to go it seemed that the curse was still on. Japan led 1-0 on a goal that should have never been allowed. Australia then went on to score their first three goals in finals history; and a draw with Croatia in the final game was enough to qualify for the next round. They faced Italy and were tied 0-0, and a minute away from extra time. They had a man advantage, when Materazzi was red carded early in the second half, and were outplaying Italy when an ill-advised half-tackle by Lucas Neill and a spectacular ‘dive’ by Grosso won Italy an undeserved penalty. So the Aussies lost to the eventual Cup winners on the last kick of the game.

Time will tell if the curse has truly been lifted.

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