Australia erupted in celebration Tuesday after the Socceroos made a fifth straight World Cup, with football superstar Sam Kerr leading the charge, telling the doubters to “eat your hats”. Graham Arnold’s men stunned Peru in a penalty shootout in Doha to clinch the penultimate spot at the global showpiece this year, with substitute goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne the hero.
It was an extraordinary turnaround for a team that won 11 games on the trot during qualifying before a slump forced them into a do-or-die qualifier against the United Arab Emirates and then Peru.
But with doubts mounting and coach Graham Arnold’s job on the line, they beat UAE 2-1 last week, then crushed Peruvian dreams 5-4 on penalties after the match finished 0-0 after extra-time.
“Doubters eat your hats, we’re going to the World Cup,” tweeted jubilant Chelsea and Australian striker Kerr, who was named player of the year by England’s Professional Footballers Association last week.
A host of former Australian players were equally ecstatic, with Socceroos all-time top goalscorer Tim Cahill admitting there were “so many emotions”.
“But the main thing is this team showed up when it counted. To all the staff and players, congratulations,” added the retired Cahill, who played in the last four World Cups.
Former Aston Villa, Manchester United and Australian goalkeeper Mark Bosnich called it a deserved win while the Wallabies rugby union team simply said: “You little beauty!”.
Luke Wiltshire, who played 80 times for Australia, told local television the result would go down in Australian football folklore.
“People had written them off. They went the hard way, they turned up on the night and performed. We saw bravery and character,” he said.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, a staunch rugby league fan, also waded in, tweeting: “World Cup here we come.”
Arnold had previously called on Albanese to give Australians the day off to celebrate the following Tuesday’s early morning kick-off, but that failed to materialise.
Australia will face France, Denmark and Tunisia in Group D at the World Cup, with Arnold firmly back in charge, having survived mounting calls to be sacked after their failure to qualify automatically.
“The doubters don’t bother me, it is these boys I care for, the game I care for,” he said after ensuring Australia will once more be on the world stage.
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