'One of the most special days of my life': Simon Hill's Japan FIFA World Cup 2006 Diary
Fox Sports commentator Simon Hill reflects on covering the Socceroos' historic first-ever FIFA World Cup win over Japan in 2006!
14 years ago today, the world was a very different place.
There was no Corona Virus, WikiLeaks was still a few months away from being created, and Pirates of the Caribbean was the big box office smash.
But it was one of the most special days of my life, and, I'll wager many other Australians who were either in the German city of Kaiserslautern, or watching on television at home.
My day however, began over 600 kilometres away in the capital city of Berlin - where the day before, I'd completed my weekly duty of hosting the World Cup show for SBS, on rotation with Les Murray. The rest of the week, I was billeted in Stuttgart, near to the Socceroos training base at Ohringen.
Kaiserslautern doesn't have an airport, so, the SBS team flew to Saarbrucken in some style - via a private jet. Not being the best of flyers in those days, I can't say I enjoyed the two hour trip, as impressive as the Lear was. It felt like being in a sardine can a mile up in the sky.
From Saarbrucken, we took a taxi to Kaiserslautern, and it was only then that the enormity of the occasion really hit me.
Watch Simon Hill join Tim Cahill to relive his heroics v Japan at the FIFA World Cup 2006 in the video at the top.
Of course, I knew all about the 32-year wait for a World Cup Finals appearance, and I'd diligently done my preparation on both the Socceroos and the Japan team they were facing. But the sight of so many Australians wandering the streets confirmed that this was a very special day indeed. Les & Craig (Foster) even changed into Socceroos jerseys for the pre-game presentation - a real break from the norm.
Two years earlier, my first commentary on a Socceroos home game had been a rather odd experience for a foreigner like me. The stands were full of red and white in the colours of Turkey, rather than the green & gold of Australia - indicative of the fact that the team (at that point) had become rather disconnected from their home. That game against the Turks was, incredibly, the first on their own patch in almost three years!
The Uruguay qualifier had changed all that - and the likes of Tim Cahill, Mark Schwarzer, Mark Viduka, Lucas Neill & Harry Kewell had all become household names, long before the Socceroos settled into their camp in Germany.
The day was hot and sticky, and I remember the long climb up the steep Betzenberg hill, atop which the Fritz-Walter Stadion sits - and being somewhat out of breath by the time we'd reached the summit. Especially as I had to help my cameraman, Ryan Sheridan, with some of his equipment.
By the time I settled into my commentary position, the nerves were really starting to set in. A phone call back to Sydney confirmed that this was a VERY big deal indeed - even back home, where it was the wee small hours of the morning. Thousands had gathered at fan sites across all the major cities. I knew I had to try and get this one right.
But after paying homage to the late Johnny Warren pre-kick off, I settled into a rhythm once the game started. Football is football, whether it's a World Cup or a wet Wednesday in Wigan.
As we all now know, Australia fell behind to a Shunsuke Nakamura goal, but it appeared there had been a slight foul on Mark Schwarzer as he went up to gather the ball. At half time, this was the topic of conversation among most of the Australian fans around me - including comic Santo Cilauro, who made a point of coming over to say hello, before complaining loudly about the referee's non-award of the foul!
The rest of the game is a bit of a blur, aside of the big moments, although I have seen (and heard) them replayed a thousand times since. Guus Hiddink's masterstroke in going for broke - throwing on Cahill, John Aloisi and Josh Kennedy paying the ultimate dividends. My line about hoping Tim had "had his Weetbix" as the team tried to turn around the narrow deficit.
Cahill and Aloisi got the glory for their goals of course - but Kennedy's role in unsettling the tiring Japanese defence is rarely remembered. They simply could not handle him. What is also mostly forgotten, is that Tim very nearly turned from hero to villain - committing a clumsy tackle inside his own box that was an absolute stonewall penalty!
At the end of the game, I made my way down to a rather euphoric press conference, where a beaming Hiddink held court, and FFA Media Manager, Stuart Hodge, lifted me off the ground in a huge bear hug. It was that sort of a moment - that sort of a day, that sort of a time. History made before our very eyes.
I ended that day back in Baden-Wurttemberg, at our rather basic Formula1 motel above Stuttgart rail station, ready to go again back to Ohringen the next day for the wash-up.
One day - four cities, one Lear jet ride, one magical twenty four hour period that is still, arguably the Socceroos best ever. I'll never forget it.