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Oct 17, 2005

Socceroos to avenge Uruguay playoff loss

With Australia only two games away from qualifying for the World Cup finals, manager Gus Hiddink told ESPN Soccernet Press Pass that he is confident his team can gain revenge over Uruguay in a high stakes two-legged play-off.

The Socceroos found themselves in exactly the same position four years ago, with a place at the 2002 World Cup at stake, and it was Australia who were left heartbroken as the South Americans fought back from 1-0 down in the first match to win 3-0 in Montevideo and book their place at the finals.

On November 12 the Socceroos again head to Uruguay, for the first-leg of their play-off, and Dutch coach Hiddink, who replaced Frank Farina in July, is optimistic of engineering a different result second time around.

'I hope it will be different,' Hiddink told ESPN Soccernet Press Pass. 'There is a difference in the quality of both teams, but we hope to give them a good game. I have a lot of respect for their team because most of their players play in big European leagues.

'There are also quite a few Australians who play in England and Spain, so although Uruguay are the favourites, I think we should be able to give them a tougher match than last time. I hope the surprises on and off the pitch will be different this time.'

The 56-year-old, who is combining his role as manager of PSV Eindhoven with his role as Socceroos coach, guided unfancied South Korea to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup and expects his new team of underdogs to learn from their mistakes in Montevideo.

'The players are looking forward to this game, but they know that it will be difficult because when you are the number five team in South America you are still a powerhouse in international football,' Hiddink said. 'My players have the experience from four years ago, so they know what to expect over there.'

This time the Australians will play the first leg in Latin America and Hiddink knows that if his team can keep it tight in Uruguay then having the return leg at home four days later could provide a vital advantage.

'The last time it was the other way around, and we know how that worked out. It can be a bit of an advantage on one hand, but on the other hand, I know that the Uruguayan players are very professional and they know what has to be done. I hope my players know the same. It can be a slight advantage as long as you are not blown away in the first game.'

This is the last chance the Australians have to represent the Oceania confederation at the World Cup as the Socceroos have controversially switched to the Asian qualifying zone (AFC) for the 2010 World Cup, in a bid to face tougher opponents and gain increased access to qualification places.

'The problem in the past with the Australian team is that they played in a confederation where they barely had any tough opponents, so they only had one big opponent to prepare for, as we are with Uruguay now,' Hiddink explained.

Australia had to win the Oceania division to reach the play-off, after FIFA reversed it's decision to grant Oceania an automatic qualification place, while Uruguay beat Argentina 1-0 to secure fifth place in the South American standings.

As perpetual winners of the Oceania section FIFA's decision to make them take part in a play-off still rankles with Australians and prompted their decision to quit their home federation for the AFC - which carries four automatic qualification places.

'You see some other play-offs, you see countries with less quality, and they will be on the World Cup Stage,' Hiddink lamented. 'Australia, having players mainly based in Europe should also make the World Cup.'

If Hiddink can lead the Socceroos to the 2006 World Cup it will be the first time they have appeared in the finals since 1974.

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