As Harry Kewell edged another year closer to 40 yesterday, it’s hard to believe it’s been 11 years since his heroics against Croatia changed the Australian football landscape.
77th minute. Tick, tick. 78th minute. Tick, tick.
Beads of sweat - half water, half German beer - gather before drooling down the crevass-like wrinkles on overweight Australian foreheads. Inflatable Kangaroos are held in death grips. A cross bends through space and time, curling like the flick of a scorpions tail, taking an age to find it's target. The right target.
"Australia's golden boy has done it," screams Simon Hill. Australia already knew. Who else to lead Australia to unforseen heights in world football, then the man who had been doing it his whole career.
But while that World Cup equaliser against Croatia is the moment that lives on in the memories of most Socceroos fans, the man voted Australia’s Greatest Ever Footballer had already catapulted the Australian game to new heights long before 2006.
On his 39th birthday, as he struggles to save a cataclysmic Crawley Town from non-league wilderness and it’s own financial meltdowns, a couple of deserved tributes reminded us all why Kewell's legacy is so important to Australian football.
Success arrived very quickly for Kewell. He had his first successful trial with Premier League powerhouses Leeds United at 15-years-old.
There is always luck involved in any Australian succeeding in Europe. Brett Emerton, an equally quick and spirited midfielder, if not perhaps quite as skilled on the ball, had also been accepted by Leeds. But Emerton could not satisfy English visa requirements, and Kewell had his father’s English heritage to fall back on.
That small step would be the making of a legend. By 17, he’d hit the first team at Leeds and debuted for the Socceroos – the youngest ever debutant at the time.