While we await the start of the EAFF East Asian Cup semi final tournament, in which Australia will line up against current Unofficial Football World Champions North Korea, we’re taking a look back at the one and only time the Socceroos have won the UFWC title in a classic match from 1992. We’ll be back with full coverage of the next UFWC title match, North Korea vs Chinese Taipei on 1 December.
USA 0-1 Australia
13 June 1992
Citrus Bowl, Orlando
Despite traditionally preferring their footballs to be egg-shaped, the Americans were enjoying their second stint as UFWC champions, having taken the title from Portugal and held off Italy in friendly matches in Chicago earlier in the month.
Australia, another country that preferred its football to be played by alternative rules – and was yet to fully embrace the beautiful game despite having been on the international stage since 1922 – had never played in a UFWC title match.
The match was the first of a ‘goodwill series’ across the Americas designed to give Australia’s Socceroos match practice ahead of World Cup qualifiers.
Among the US players were keeper Tony Meola, defender Marcelo Balboa, and Dutch-born striker Earnie Stewart, all of whom would play for their country in World Cup finals. The US were coached by Yugoslav Velibor ‘Bora’ Milutinovic. Australia’s coach, Eddie Thomson, was a Scot. The Aussie line-up included controversial midfielder Ned Zelic, and defender Tony Vidmar, who would both later have relatively unsuccessful stints in England, with Queen’s Park Rangers and Middlesbrough respectively.
Zelic, of Croatian origin, was signed for £1.3 million by QPR manager Ray Wilkins, who described him as ‘as versatile as an egg’. But the signing was a rotten one – Zelic played only three times for the relegation bound club, suffering persistent knee injuries and eventually deciding that London wasn’t for him. Vidmar, Australia’s most-capped player, also played for Rangers and Cardiff City.
In a muggy and humid Orlando, 17,500 fans braved a huge thunderstorm to get to the game, but the kick-off was delayed for fear that the players would be struck by lightning. Indeed the match was on the verge of being abandoned, when the storm finally passed, and the go-ahead was given.
In slippery conditions, neither side served up much to convince those gathered there that the game had been worth braving the weather. It was a full 85 minutes before the deadlock was broken, with Warren Spink netting the only goal of the game for the Socceroos. Australia took the UFWC title, but lost it in their next ‘goodwill’ match to Argentina.
This is an edited extract from Unofficial Football World Champions, the official UFWC book. It traces the history of the UFWC from the very first international match in 1872 via more than 800 title matches, involving legendary teams and footballing minnows, classic finals and forgotten friendlies, celebrated players and unsung heroes.
FourFourTwo magazine called Unofficial Football World Champions “a fascinating history of football” and awarded the book five stars. It’s available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon.co.uk
and other Amazon stores worldwide.