Friday, November 8, 2013

Farewell, Mark Schwarzer, and thanks.

I still get goosebumps.

It’s been nearly eight years since the greatest moment in Australian football, and whenever that shining, glorious shootout against Uruguay crosses my mind, I allow my mind to wander fondly around the memories.

Last night I watched that video again.

First came the goosebumps, prickling as if to reinforce the importance of what I was witnessing. Then, even though I’ve watched that film ten times or more, my temperature rose and my heart began thumping louder and faster.

As Marcelo Zalayeta strode to the spot, my eyes began to water.


No sporting event has left such an imprint on me as that shootout. It might be the most important Australian sporting moment this century, fuelling an Australian interest in soccer only Jonny Warren thought possible. The strength of the A-League and the Socceroos’ prominence in the Asian Confederation are thanks to that one Australian team and the feats of Marc Bresciano, John Aloisi and Mark Schwarzer.

When the maudlin mood takes me, the first and defining image I come to isn’t of Aloisi’s bare-chested sprint around the Sydney Olympic Stadium but Schwarzer, eyes closed, torso extended and fists pumping, howling in inarticulate elation.

Looking back, these seven minutes of footage completely represent the Socceroos involved. Tony Vidmar, rock solid and no fuss, perhaps the guy most integral to Australia’s 2006 qualification, did precisely what was required but fades into the background (he never played for the Socceroos again). Mark Viduka’s career is summed up by his near miss. Harry Kewell returned from an overstated injury to provide an element of sublime talent that Uruguayan goalkeeper Fabian Carini barely saw. Lucas Neill doesn’t care what anyone thinks. Aloisi, always the last forward used but forever effective, delivered the final blow as he would seven months later against Japan.

And Schwarzer, the man on whom that ultimate triumph was built. Longtime rival for the gloves Mark Bosnich might have saved one of those two penalties; contemporary Zeljko Kalac would have been lucky just to get near one. But Schwarzer, ever unflappable, ever uncompromising, simply outwilled his Uruguayan opponents.

That magical night cemented Mark Schwarzer as my favourite Socceroo; chances are he will never be replaced. And now, in the shadows of his third World Cup, he’s gone.

While too much is made of Australia’s Golden Generation, it is true that the nation has never had more talented teams than those in which Mark Schwarzer played. It is testament to the man that for the majority of his career, he was the first player picked; the player around whom his country's best were assembled. No matter how intimidating the opposition, there was a certain surety Australians felt with the big guy between the posts. More importantly, his teammates felt the same way.

Mark Schwarzer was the single most important (and approachable) Socceroo of his generation; honest, hardworking and, by dint confidence in him, capable of inspiring teammates into greater performances. He is, without question, the best goalkeeper – and perhaps the greatest player – Australia has ever produced. Certainly no other shot-stopper will be boast his resume, nor be remembered as fondly.

Thank you, Mark Schwarzer. Australian football wouldn’t be what it is without you.

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