Socceroos vs Seleção: Six of the best (and worst) encounters

While Australia and Brazil might have historically sat at opposing ends of the world football spectrum, their semi-regular clashes over the past 30 years have produced an unexpectedly intriguing catalogue of stories.

Group F Brazil v Australia - World Cup 2006

Craig Moore, right, challenges Brazil's Ronaldo at the 2006 World Cup Source: Getty Images

There’s been friendly drama, Confederations Cup heartbreak and World Cup wrestles, all with back-stories as interesting – if not more so – than the matches themselves.

When the two teams square off at the MCG on Tuesday night, there’s every chance we’ll be extending this list of weird, wonderful and occasionally painful memories.

Ahead of kick-off, we look at six of the most memorable occasions the two nations of green and gold did battle.


1. Romario spoils the party: Australia 0 – 2 Brazil (Bicentennial Gold Cup Final, 1988)

For those who don’t remember it, the 1988 Bicentennial Gold Cup was Australian football’s way of taking part in the 200-year celebration of European settlement. Ironically, the teams on that occasion were Australia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Argentina – the same four teams that have been in Australia this past week.

If the idea seems quaint now, it was a really big deal at the time, especially for the long-suffering football community. Sensationally, Australia defeated Argentina 4-1 at the just-opened Sydney Football Stadium, setting the stage for a final against Brazil (who had already beaten Australia 1-0 in the group stage).

Believing they could do the impossible, the Socceroos fought desperately but were ultimately undone by the mercurial Romario (who also scored the winner in the group stages) just before the hour mark, with Müller closing out the contest soon after.

But all the tournament buzz was about Romario – and with good reason. Two months later, he would be top-scorer at the Seoul Olympics, then seal his European move to Dutch club PSV Eindhoven and eventually become one of the sport’s all-time greats.

2. Ro-Ro runs amok: Brazil 6 – 0 Australia (Confederations Cup Final, 1997)

Fresh from the heartache of getting beaten by Iran only three weeks before, Australian football desperately needed something to pick up the spirits – and the 1997 Confederations Cup in Saudi Arabia seemed to come along at exactly the right time.

A brilliant 3-1 group stage win over Mexico, followed by a draw with 1994 World Cup champions Brazil and an extra-time semi-final triumph over Uruguay made for a soothing balm.

But Australia’s pride was demolished in a total horror show in the final. Already 1-0 down early on, Mark Viduka was sent off in the 24th minute for kicking Cafu, leaving the Socceroos in total disarray.

The brilliant Brazilian team (so good that Rivaldo, Leonardo, Bebeto and Ze Roberto were on the bench) went to work.

Both Romario and Ronaldo scored hat-tricks – leaving Australian football in a world of hurt and embarrassment for the second time in a month. It was Terry Venables’ last game in charge.

3. Promoter’s nightmare unearths a new star: Australia 2 – 2 Brazil (Friendly, 1999)

Ronaldomania was at its peak in the late 1990s, and even though his 1998 World Cup ended acrimoniously, the hoopla about his arrival in Australia a year later for a two-match series was incredible.

But the CBF mis-read the memo about a full-strength team (they’d organised another friendly against Spain at roughly the same time).

Sending out an under-23 team to prepare for the 2000 Olympics, the CBF figured if Ronaldo showed up, they’d still get their appearance money from the promoter, IMG.

Yet then FIFA intervened, upholding a complaint from Inter Milan that Ronaldo had already fulfilled his quota of international matches.

Although Ronaldo left Australia as quickly as he arrived, Brazil still won a spiteful first match at the Olympic Stadium 2-0.

And while the build-up to that first match was dominated by the withdrawal of Harry Kewell (due to injury) and Ronaldo, prior to the second game Ned Zelic walked out on the Socceroos after finding out he was to be dropped by new coach Frank Farina. He never played for Australia again.

The silver lining? IMG opened the gates for free four days later at the MCG. Almost 80,000 people crammed in on a Thursday night to see Australia race away to a 2-0 lead, courtesy of a Paul Agostino brace, before Brazil rallied tremendously in the second half thanks to two brilliant youngsters.

One of them, the 22-year old Denilson, had just been signed by Real Betis for a world-record fee of £21.5 million, and he was superb down the left-flank, crossing in for Brazil’s first goal.

Who scored it? A 19-year old, buck-toothed lad from Porto Alegre with bambi-like legs. His name? Ronaldinho – who promptly set up the equaliser with some of the best dribbling you’ll ever see. He was still two years from moving to Europe.

In the end, anyone who paid full price got way more than their money’s worth.

4. The breakthrough. Brazil 0 – 1 Australia (Confederations Cup Third-Place Play-off, 2001)

After four defeats and two draws, Australia finally broke through for a victory against the Samba Kings at the 2001 Confederations Cup in Japan. If it was hard to believe at the time, it’s still hard to comprehend now.

Clayton Zane will go down in history books as the man who scored the winner against world champions France, but Shaun Murphy deserves his place for bagging an 84th minute winner against Brazil in the third-placed play-off in Ulsan.

This was arguably Australia’s best tournament of all-time, with a 2-0 victory over Mexico in the group stages repeating the win of four years previously. Only a 1-0 defeat to hosts Japan in the semi-final – in driving rain – prevented the Socceroos from another tilt at glory.

5. Dogged Socceroos undone by class. Brazil 2 – 0 Australia (World Cup group stage, 2006)

Australia has rarely fought so magnificently and lost. This was a brutal affair in Munich; not only in terms of the physicality but the level of all-round intensity of both sides.

The Socceroos, battle-hardened and tactically prepared by Guus Hiddink, didn’t take a backwards step in the summer sun.

Defensively superb, Australia even had chances of their own, with Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Mark Bresciano all going within centimetres of scoring after Adriano’s opener just after half-time.

Described by the BBC as “the day Australian football came of age”, the Socceroos could easily have snatched a point but were ultimately undone right at the death, when Fred tapped home on the brink of injury time.

Ultimately, while both sides advanced to the knock-out stages, some may say this was the highest point of Australian football – the first and only time they’ve gone toe-to-toe with a world-class team on the biggest stage and held their own.

6. Seleção slaughter puts Osieck on shaky ground. Brazil 6 – 0 Australia (Friendly, 2013)

An uninspiring World Cup qualification campaign ultimately ended with Australia making it through to the 2014 World Cup, but the jungle drums had long been beating regarding coach Holger Osieck.

If it was impossible to sack him during the qualifiers – and certainly after the Socceroos limped over the line – what transpired in late 2013 sent Football Federation Australia over the edge.

Australia had booked two high-profile friendlies a month apart, first against Brazil in Brasilia, before going over to Paris to face France at the Stade de France.

The aging Socceroos, who seemed content to dine out on their deeds of many years before, were duly smashed by Brazil (riding high after a Confederations Cup victory months before), starting with an eighth-minute goal to Jo and never stopping until Luiz Gustavo slammed in a sixth.

The hopeless, pathetic display was backed up by one every bit as bad in France, leading FFA chairman Frank Lowy to decide enough was enough with the German boss, installing Ange Postecoglou soon after.

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7 min read
Published 13 June 2017 at 9:30am
By Sebastian Hassett