A LATE goal from Brett Holman gave Australia an unlikely 2-1 victory over local rivals New Zealand in their farewell clash at the MCG tonight.
Holman, who has been regularly criticised for his inability to score for his country over the years, almost certainly played his way into Pim Verbeek's final 23-man squad by ghosting to the far post and finishing superbly with a half volley with the last kick of the game after also starting the move which was set up by a superb lob from Carl Valeri.
But while the Socceroos ultimately got the job done in the first of three friendlies they will play before their second successive World Cup apperarance in June - for most of the night they struggled against a modest but brave New Zealand team that at 78 is ranked 58 places below them on FIFA's rankings.
It certainly wasn't a performance that will have group opponents in South Africa in Germany, Serbia and Ghana shaking with fear as Australia went behind to a New Zealand side that has just qualified for its first World Cup in 28 years but had six A-League players and one New Zealand-based club player in its starting XI.
It took a debut goal from young midfielder Dario Vidosic to bring Australia back on level terms - and that came following a fortunate defection - after Chris Killen's first half goal had put the Kiwis - who famously knocked Australia out of the 1982 and 1990 World Cups and also beat the Socceroos in the 1999 and 2002 Oceania Nations' Cup Final - on course for another shock win against the old enemy.
While the Kiwis were virtually at full-strength with ten of the eleven that started in November's 1-0 win over Bahrain that clinched their World Cup berth on display - Australia badly missed first choice players in Mark Schwarzer (thumb), Harry Kewell (groin), Brett Emerton (hamstring), Josh Kennedy (back soreness) and rested defenders Luke Wilkshire and Scott Chipperfield.
And veterans Craig Moore, Mark Bresciano and Vince Grella - all of whom have endured very little recent club football - all looked badly in need of the run.
Australia's first half performance had to be seen to be believed as the Socceroos produced one of their worst halves since coach Pim Verbeek took over.
The game began at a crawl but after Tim Cahill - who along with David Carney was the only Socceroo to offer anything productive in the first 45 minutes - almost got in behind the New Zealand defence in the ninth minute, the underrated visitors exploded into life.
Vice-captain Tim Brown shot just wide in the 11th minute to fire the first warning before the Kiwis struck in the 16th minute with a move as simple as it was effective.
A free-kick by veteran Simon Elliott was flicked on by Shane Smeltz with Chris Killen then beating Mark Milligan to the ball at the far post and placing it expertly past debutant 'keeper Adam Federici, who came out to intercept but had no chance.
The goal rattled the home side as first Mark Milligan was booked before Vince Grella should have been sent off for a terrible two-footed lunge on Leo Bertos right on the touchline.
Incredibly the midfield veteran - who complained at Kiwi Rory Fallon's suggestion during the week that there might be injuries in any match played between the two great rivals - escaped with just a yellow card.
And just three minutes later the courageous Bertos was forced off due to a leg injury after being caught again - this time by Cahill, who became the third Socceroo to be booked after catching Bertos when he left his leg up in a tough challenge that was more careless than malicious - unlike Grella's.
In between those three bookings and in the space of just seven minutes, the Kiwis should have been two goals up after the impressive Killen struck a post with a fantastic volley on the turn with Federici beaten.
Australia's first half performance was then best summed up when Grella tried a ridiculous lob from nearly halfway just before the whistle as the 55,000 strong MCG crowd booed the Socceroos off at the break.
Verbeek made five changes at the break with Federici, Cahill, Grella, Mark Bresciano and Craig Moore making way for third-string keeper Brad Jones as well as Michael Beauchamp, Mile Jedinak, Holman and Valeri.
But the biggest change was when Culina was freed up to play a more attacking role as opposed to the defensive midfield role he enjoyed in the first half and it was the Socceroos' 'energiser bunny' who sparked an immediate second half improvement.
With Valeri and Jedinak immediately looking comfortable in the defensive midfield roles, Culina was able to push forward with more confidence and it was his great run which set up Australia's equaliser after his shot was deflected into the path of Vidosic, who finished with aplomb with a powerful shot across Mark Pasten on the turn.
But Australia had third choice goalkeeper Jones to thank for not falling behind again when he made a great save from point blank range after Fallon wasted a glorious chance to win the game for the Kiwis, when he headed straight at Jones after getting on the end of a great cross from Tommy Smith.
The Kiwis looked set to hang on for a deserved draw until Holman popped up to silence his critics with the last kick of the game but Verbeek will be looking for a much improved performance when Australia faces Denmark on June 1 in the first of its two friendlies in South Africa prior to its first World Cup group game against Germany on June 13.
Australia: 2 (Vidosic 57, Holman 90)
New Zealand: 1 (Killen 16)
Crowd: 55,659 at MCG