Australia celebrates another trip to World Cup
Hundreds of fans greeted members of Australia's national football team at downtown Sydney's Circular Quay on Wednesday after the Socceroos qualified for next year's World Cup in Brazil with a 1-0 win over Iraq.
''It's been a tough four years, teams are getting tougher ... we're just delighted that we have achieved our goal,'' Australia captain Lucas Neill said at a public reception in which the late Australian singer/songwriter Peter Allen's signature ''I Go to Rio'' was prominently featured.
There were more than 100,000 tweets about Australia's qualification for its third consecutive World Cup tournament, including congratulatory messages from former Juventus star Alessandro Del Piero, who plays with the A-League's Sydney FC, and FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
Del Piero tweeted: ''C'mon Socceroos! Congrats for the qualification fifaworldcup 2014. Ciao Ale.''
It will be a veteran Australia squad next year in Brazil. The 35-year-old Neill will be joined by Mark Schwarzer (40), Mark Bresciano (33), Archie Thompson (34) and Tim Cahill (33).
''Had we not made it to Brazil, there would be a few guys questioning if they wanted to keep going,'' Neill said. ''It's now given us great motivation. What better way to top off a long career than to play in a World Cup?
''But we won't be there just to make up the numbers. We are there to go further than we have before and to make it very memorable.''
Neill praised coach Holger Osieck's late substitution which brought off Cahill for Josh Kennedy, who scored the winning goal in the 83rd minute Tuesday before more than 80,000 fans at the former Olympic stadium.
''It was a brave call taking off Australia's equal top goal scorer for someone who hadn't played much football,'' Neill said. ''Coaches get paid to make big decisions. He made one, he backed himself and it resulted in a goal.''
Kennedy, who plays for Nagoya Grampus in Japan, has battled back problems for the past 18 months.
''He'd peaked just in time to come back into the squad, he was unlucky not to take the field in the previous two matches but when he was given his chance he took it,'' Neill said. ''That is the quality of a guy like Josh.''
Kennedy said his feat was ''starting to sink in.''
''The game was positioned perfectly for me, coming on with 10 minutes to go,'' Kennedy said Wednesday. ''I didn't get much sleep last night, but hopefully spending a few days with friends and family will start to make it feel real.''
Australia finished second in its group behind Japan, which also qualified along with Iran and South Korea from Asia.
Uzbekistan and Jordan, which finished third in their respective groups, will play off to determine which side plays the fifth-place South American side in the final round of qualifying.