Why This Pool Party Is Likely The Socceroos’ Final Playoff Celebration

The victorious Socceroos come home to Sydney airport on Wednesday afternoon after the final episode of the World Cup play-off penalty heroes.

The shootout win over Peru harks back to the 2005 team and John Aloisi’s decisive goal.

World football has changed radically in the intervening 16 and a half years as the influence of the countries of the Middle East has increased and the kick-off has gone backwards.

But the world game will see nothing less than a revolution in the next four years.

And it means that the rollercoaster experience of a World Cup shootout at stake won’t be for Australia, but for others.

A day to remember

The sudden death of Andrew Redmayne, with participation in the World Cup up for grabs, sparked an intense stream of joy for fans from Ahmed bin Ali Stadium to Australian lounges.

In the hours that followed, defender Trent Sainsbury did not delay his post-match celebration with injury.

The Socceroos celebrated after their victory over Peru.Delivered: Instagram

The 30-year-old missed last week’s win over the UAE and the match in Peru with a knee complaint.

A montage of three images of the Socceroos relaxing in a hotel
Socceroo Trent Sainbury provided insight into the celebrations following Australia’s victory over Peru in Doha.Delivered: Instagram

But he, along with captain Maty Ryan and striker Mitch Duke, have shared videos of the Socceroos partying in Qatar after the game.

While players complained about a lack of beer on the bus back from the stadium in a country that bans public drinking, the ales clearly flowed back to the hotel.

Winger Martin Boyle was even captured while participating in what appears to be hookah.

The scenes are perhaps reminiscent of Australian football’s most iconic moment in 2005 and its aftermath, when John Travolta made his appearance in the dressing room, also following a World Cup play-off win.

A group of men smiling with arms around each other in a dressing room, usually dressed in yellow
John Travolta joins the Socceroos for the after-game celebrations in 2005.FFA via Getty Images

On Wednesday afternoon, a number of players will arrive in Sydney again.

The Qantas charter with which the players returned from Uruguay in 2005 has been replaced by a commercial flight operated by Qatar Airways.

But a bigger change by FIFA in 2017 will affect how the Socceroos qualify from now on.

A montage of images showing the Socceroos in a swimming pool
Mitch Duke took part in the celebrations in the pool in Qatar.Delivered: Instagram

A bigger World Cup

The first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 involved only 13 countries, and from 1934 the tournament was played in 16 teams. In 1982 the number of teams increased to 24 teams and in 1998 to 32.

FIFA decided in 2017 to expand the showpiece of 2026 to no fewer than 48 teams.

The governing body currently has 211 member associations, meaning nearly a quarter of its members will reach the sport’s biggest podium in four years’ time.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino defended the decision at the time after criticism from clubs:

The move gives developing countries a greater chance to participate, and eight places will automatically go to Asian teams.

Trent Sainsbury fights Eldor Shomurodov
Uzbekistan is currently the 11th highest ranked side in Asia and will be eyeing a spot in 2026.AP: Kamran Jebreili

Australia automatically qualified as one of the top four teams in Asia for the 2010 and 2014 tournaments. For 2018 and 2022, Australia slipped into the Asian play-off, but both defeated their Asian rivals in what was essentially a fifth place finisher .

The experience in recent campaigns cemented Australia’s notoriety for the play-off, which dates back to agonizing defeats to Uruguay, Iran and beyond.

But Australia now has a chance to put the World Cup play-off to bed.

A comprehensive intercontinental qualifying tournament in 2025 will give two teams one last chance to qualify. But if the Socceroos returned to this playoff environment — and with it the kind of do-or-die shootout drama of 2005 and 2022 — they’d do so as the ninth best team in Asia.

Despite the team’s recent slump, and the odd slip-up against a less Asian side, it’s hard to imagine.

Which means the celebrations of the Socceroos may now have to wait for the big dance.

Posted updated

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