The 13th of November 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Socceroos squad win over South Korea to qualify for Australia’s first World Cup.
The milestone achievement occurred at a time when only 16 teams qualified for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, putting Australia on the footballing map.
Northern NSW’s very own Col Curran and Ray Baartz were among the squad that helped get Australia over the line against South Korea with coach Rale Rasic labelling Curran as ‘the best footballer in the country’ during the qualification journey.
Under the guidance of Rasic, Australia prevailed from the first stage of qualifying, winning a group that included New Zealand, Indonesia and Iraq. The side then faced Iran home and away, winning the first leg in Sydney 3-0 before Iran won 2-0 in Tehran in the second leg.
The next hurdle to face was South Korea. Both matches ended in a draw, with Baartz scoring the equaliser prompting a decider organised on neutral ground in Hong Kong.
“The South Korean team was on the same plane as us going to Hong Kong,” Baartz said.
“We were laughing and joking and they were all down and despondent because they thought they’d done enough to qualify leading 2-0.
“We were buoyant, everyone was cracking jokes and it was a psychological win for us.”
“What we put up with in 1970 to get us to where we did was a Herculean effort.”
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy but we knew that we were capable of beating them.”
It took until the 70th minute before Jimmy Mackay scored from long range to book Australia’s ticket to the 1974 tournament for the first time.
44-time capped local Socceroo Graham Jennings shared the impact that this achievement had on his football career.
“It was such an important moment in our football history as it directly led to the formation of the National League and it inspired the formation of the Young Socceroos in 1979,” Jennings said.
“It put us on the sporting map in Australia and the world and inspired me to play for the Socceroos. It was like what the Matildas’ effect has been this year for me back then.”
Curran went on to represent Australia at the 1974 World Cup in West Germany but unfortunately Baartz was ruled out of the tournament due to injury.
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