AFC – KUALA LUMPUR, Australia will kick off their FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia Intercontinental Play-off against Honduras later on Friday with the aim of confirming a fourth successive appearance at the Finals.
The Socceroos know that luck hasn’t always been on their side when it comes to navigating through intercontinental doubleheaders.
In fact, the penalty shootout triumph over Uruguay in 2005 remains their only success in five attempts.
Fans will particularly remember the infamous play-off with the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1997, which saw Australia get knocked out on away goals after two intense clashes in Tehran and Melbourne.
Twenty years on, with the Green and Gold set to once again take to the field in a tough away setting in San Pedro Sula, the-AFC.com takes a look back at the first leg of the famous 1997 tie – when Team Melli hosted the Socceroos at the Azadi Stadium.
While the 1997 play-off is remembered more for the nail-biting finish in the second leg in Melbourne, the first leg was a special match in its own right.
Iran and Australia both went into the game riding on a wave of motivation, having missed out on the FIFA World Cup since their first and only appearances in 1978 and 1974 respectively.
Iranian fans poured into the Azadi Stadium on the evening of 22 November 1997, making for an extraordinary spectacle as the two teams went head to head in front of a reported 128,000 roaring spectators.
After a cautious start to the game, it was Australia who took the lead. In the 19th minute, youngster Harry Kewell controlled a lobbed pass before finishing calmly past Iran keeper Ahmad Reza Abedzadeh to silence the partisan Azadi crowd.
The 19-year-old Leeds United forward’s first international strike could not have come at a better moment for the Socceroos and gave them a crucial away goal.
However, just as Australia were looking to end the first half with the advantage, Iran came back to deal them a blow.
After Naeim Saadavi’s effort was ruled out for offside in the 37th minute, Khodadad Azizi ensured the teams would go into halftime level moments later.
Mohammad Khakpour took the Australians by suprise with his chipped pass to Mehdi Mahdavikia, who broke the offside trap before squaring the ball across to the unmarked Azizi.
The reigning AFC Player of the Year made no mistake from close range and made it 1-1.
The second half was a cagey affair and neither team could find the breakthrough they needed.
Ali Daei had a great opportunity with a header early on but the impressive Mark Bosnich was on hand to deny him.
Iran went on to pile on the pressure but the Socceroos stood firm as the game went on to end with the stalemate.
For most observers, it was an impressive result for Australia to come away with a 1-1 draw against a dominant Iranian side.
Kewell’s strike had set the stage for the Australians to go through to the World Cup with a clean sheet in Melbourne in a week’s time.
Unfortunately for a generation of Australian fans, they would be scarred by the second leg, which saw the Socceroos take a 2-0 lead before Iran equalised with two late goals in the space of four minutes.
It was Azizi again who would come to haunt them with an 80th-minute strike that saw Team Melli book their spot at the World Cup with a win on away goals.
First Leg (1:1)
Second Leg (2:2)
Photos: Lagardère Sports