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Nov 5, 2013

Schwarzer the saviour ends Socceroo career

Where would Australian soccer be without Mark Schwarzer and his mighty mitts?

Probably not in the 2006 World Cup. Probably not in the 2010 or 2014 versions either. And perhaps still battling for credibility.

Who knows how many times Schwarzer, the greatest-ever Socceroo, saved his nation.

But he saved one almighty surprise for last, by suddenly quitting international soccer.

"I didn't see it coming," fellow Australian great Harry Kewell said.

"I still believe he's our best keeper."

Tim Cahill was similarly stunned.

"It's a massive surprise from someone that I've looked up to my whole career," Cahill said.

"He's one of the greatest ambassadors to ever play the game, but most importantly a true gentlemen on and off the park."

Schwarzer, 41, ends his decorated international career with 109 caps, the most for Australia.

His parents, Hans and Doris, emigrated to Australia from Germany in 1968.

"We had nothing to lose. We said if it doesn't work out, we go back after two years," Doris has said.

Four years later, settled in NSW, their son Mark was born.

He first played at under-seven level for Colo in the Nepean district in Sydney's west, then advanced to National Soccer League club Marconi.

Schwarzer's star quickly rose, winning Australian under-17 selection, and he turned professional as an 18-year-old in 1990.

Three years later, after being crowned the NSL's goalkeeper of the year, he won his first Australian cap.

Remarkably, he remained a Socceroo for 20 years, always answering his nation's call when others, notably fellow shot-stopper Mark Bosnich, didn't.

At 193cm tall, or six foot four inches in old-speak, and with cat-like reflexes, Schwarzer was a perfect archetype for a goalkeeper.

His abilities took him to stints in Germany with Bundesliga sides Dynamo Dresden in 1994 and FC Kaiserslautern the next year.

He then moved to English second division outfit Bradford City before joining, in 1997, Premier League club Middlesbrough, where he played an astonishing 445 games.

In May 2008 Schwarzer moved to Fulham, where he made another 218 appearances. And in July this year, he moved to neighbouring powerhouse Chelsea.

Only seven footballers have made more Premier League appearances than Schwarzer, who was Australia's saviour for two decades but most notably in the deciding 2005 World Cup qualifier.

While John Aloisi's penalty sent Australia to the 2006 World Cup, and instantly entered folklore, he wouldn't have got the chance without Schwarzer blocking two Uruguay penalties.

"We owe him a lot," Aloisi said.

"I was feeling a little bit nervous before that last penalty that he saved. And once he saved it, the confidence came back.

"All I needed to do was put it in the back of the net, and thanks to Schwarzy, I was able to do that."

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