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Baxter hoping Khune brings the magic

South Africa

Cahill gives Socceroos true belief

On a baking hot afternoon in Kaiserslautern, Australia demonstrated once again just why so many non-Aussies have taken this battling team to their hearts.

Of course, today's story has much less to do with the uncommitted, and everything to do with the tens of thousands of green and gold clad travellers who have won so many German friends in recent days.

There are no 'barbies' in sight here, but suffice to say bratwurst, sauerkraut and a few cold beers will serve as adequate replacements. It's going to be a raucous night in Kaiserslautern and the surrounding towns where the Australian supporters have set up camp.

This emotional victory over Japan, complete with the happiest ending possible, sets up the entire World Cup for Guus Hiddink's team.

Defeat here, and qualification would have been a long way away.

Now, their last group match against Croatia will have true meaning, one way or another. Before that, of course, there's the small matter of Brazil in Munich on Saturday! Then again, the Socceroos will be entitled to feel thay have nothing at all to lose.

Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves though. As someone whose nerves jangled more than a few times in Montevideo and Sydney, as Australia's World Cup participation was secured for the first time since 1974, this was a similar experience.

I must confess, with the minutes ticking away, it appeared that the Aussies were destined to begin their finals campaign on a bad note. That, despite being the dominant side for long periods of a tense Group F encounter.

Japan's goal, scored by playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura was dubious to say the least. Hoisting in a speculative ball from the right, the Celtic midfielder could hardly believe his luck, when Mark Schwarzer, clearly impeded by Naohiro Takahara, failed to get there. The ball sailed into the net, and despite Australian protests, was allowed to stand by Egyptian referee Essam Abd El Fath.

In defence of the official, the infringement was harder to pick up in real time, than on the countless replays which haved since shed light on the incident. However, goalkeepers are generally protected under such circumstances.

Japanese reporters of course, have been quick to point out that their team could have had a penalty near the end of this thriller when Yuichi Komano was tripped by Tim Cahill.

Ah, yes. That brings us nicely to the Everton man, a player plagued by knee problems in the run up to the World Cup. Cahill was less than pleased to start Australia's World Cup opener on the bench. Mind you, once suspects, Guus Hiddink rather enjoys it when his players have a point to prove.

Not until the fifty third minute did Cahill replace Marco Bresciano, who had been struggling in the build-up to the match, with an ear infection.

Hiddink, who is certainly in the Sir Alex Ferguson vintage of 1999 on the substitution front, once again played the right cards at the right time.

Defender Craig Moore, who had put in an honest shift, was sacrificed, so that German-based attacker Joshua Kennedy could bring an extra aerial threat to the equation. John Aloisi came on for Luke Wilkshire, another move that made the Socceroos that bit more dangerous.

But the hero's part was played by Cahill. With 6 minutes to go, after a long throw by Lucas Neill, which was flicked on by Kennedy, Harry Kewell saw his attempt blocked, only for Cahill to fire clinically past Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi. It was the Japanese keeper's first real mistake, yet grist to the mill of those who regard him as a fine shot-stopper but only an average judge of crosses.

The tide had turned. Australia knew they had Japan on the ropes, and one sensed that a second goal was likely. That it came from the talismanic Cahill again was perhaps unsurprising.

The Japanese inexplicably allowed the Aussie substiture space twenty five yards from goal. Captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and central midfielder Takashi Fukunishi were the culpable players. Cahill struck it home sweetly, to send the green and gold army to what seemed liken heaven.

The momentum was irresistible now. Japan were on their knees, and for good measure, Aloisi, deep in injry time went on a slalom run that embarrassed Komano and the unfortunate Miyamoto. One clinical finish later, the Socceroos had wrapped up the points.

Even Zico, once a World Cup great with Brazil, now the Japanese manager, confessed that his team had been outplayed, indeed conquered by the ebullient Australians

Some might see this, given that a deficit was in place for so long, as an Aussie escape.

Not Hiddink. In his post-match remarks, the urbane Dutchman, said they had practised and planned long and hard in the weeks leading. Part of that planning, was preparaing for comeback scenarios.

Australia have become the first team to come from behind and win a game at the 2006 FIFA World Cup. They've also scored for the first time in their history at the finals.

Tim Cahill, take a bow.

Australia, you should be proud of your boys. They did you proud today.

Now, I'm off to have a beer and weisswurst with the green and gold army!

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