Coach: Mahmoud Bayati
What a different story it was in Tehran six days after the Sydney match. It was Friday 24 August 1973. Araymeher Stadium was jam-packed with an estimated 120,000 chanting and waving Iranian fans, some of whom have been waiting to enter the Stadium from the early hours of that morning.
Iran was determined to reverse the first-leg result and so gain at least a replay on neutral ground in Bangkok, Thailand.
On paper, it was a difficult task, as the Iranians were well and truly beaten in Sydney. They tried to ignore the three goal deficit - not an insignificant disadvantage in international football - and went all out for the win they needed.
This particular game was perhaps the most important in Iran's history. Nothing would equal qualifying for the World Cup. Hence it was not surprising that the stadium was full hours before the kick-off.
A local journalist was quoted as saying if the stadium had the Maracana's capacity, it would have easily have been filled by 200,000 fans.
Iran's defeat in Sydney necessitated a few changes in its line-up. Legendary goalkeeper Nasser Hejazi was benched for the game after being blamed for some soft goals conceded in Sydney. There were five changes in total, yet surprisingly, the defence which had conceded three goals, was left almost intact with just one change. The attack was also unchanged, although in Sydney it did not perform anywhere near expectations.
Australia started with the same team that had played in Sydney. There were only Iran's partisan fans at the Aryamehr Stadium to cheer on their side, and it was hot - very hot.
"I could hardly breathe," Col Curran commented afterwards. Nothing could have prepared the Socceroos for the atmosphere in the stadium. The noise from the crowd was simply incredible. The sound was distinctly shrill, a sound none of the players had ever heard before, and it had an effect on the Aussies.
Communication between the players was impossible on the pitch because of the volume.
From the first minute of the game, Iran put the Australian goal under seige. Some Iranian players said before the game that it would be very difficult to score three or more goals against the Socceroos, but that there it might be possible, especially in front of the home crowd.
Penalty against the Socceroos
Iran just failed to do what they intended despite help from the Russian Referee Havel Kobakov. In the 15th minute Kobakov gave Iran a penalty for a non-existent hand-ball by Curran, who jumped for a header contested with Ghelchikani, and according to the referee, handled in the action.
The Australians protested, but the man with the whistle stood firm. The spot-kick was taken, and Ghelchikani converted. Jimmy Fraser had no chance and was scarcely able to react to the hard shot taken by the Iranian captain.
The Iranians had hoped for an early lead so that there would be enough time to make up the deficit from the Sydney match, and the penalty was the answer to their prayers. The goal lifted the hearts of the players and increased the intensity of the excited crowd. The Iranians played better and better,
while the Australians hung on desperately, but without panic. But the winner of the Asian Sub-Group B rocked the Socceroos just ten minutes later.
Ghelichkani scored Iran's second goal after 25 minutes. The Socceroos lost the ball in midfield, at the halfway line. Atti Abonyi tried to win the ball back with a tackle, but he was too late, and a long, high pass flew through to the Australian goalmouth, kicked back by an Iranian forward to the fast-arriving captain of the Persian team. With a fierce 30 metre long-range shot that left the Australian goalkeeper grasping air and the 120,000 fans in Arayamehr stadium ecstatic, Ghelchikani scored. His shot was hard, his opponent came too late, and the defence was helpless.
Australia was two goals down after just 25 minutes. That was the situation no one wanted. Keeping the Iranians scoreless in the first half was Rasic's aim.
Iran - Australia 2 - 0
Now Iran needed one more goal to force Australia into a third tie-breaking match, or two goals to win outright. Australia was not playing very well. The players were sufferring from the heat and the hostile crowd. There were few people who didn't think Iran deserved to win this game the way Australia were playing. The Socceroos had managed only one real shot at goal in the first half and the Iranians were far superior.
Big Max Tolson in actionHowever, coach Rasic made two shrewd substitutions that saved the Socceroos.First, big Max Tolson came on at half time for Adrian Alston who had rarely seen the ball in attack. Tolson played very deep and used all his strength and aggression to knock the stuffing out of the Iranians.
Rasic rode his luck with that substitution and Tolson played one of his best games ever for the green and gold. Captain Peter Wilson had been given a yellow card and so he had to be careful from then on not to pick up a second, because of his tough play and firm tackles.
Ray Richards had already been struck with a coin as he prepared to toss one of his famous long throw-ins. The Socceroos were outplayed, and had only one distinct chance in the whole game. This was when Ray Baartz had a ball with the word goal written all over it early in the second half, but shot wide from three metres.
Rasic made the second change in the 71st minute, bringing on Jimmy Rooney for Johnny Warren. Rooney, fresh and fit, was constantly on the ball, and used his ability to hang onto it and thus deny Iran possession. By this tactic, Australia attempted to prevent Iran from scoring again.
Jimmy Fraser in actionThe Socceroos withstood more and more pressure. Goalkeeper Fraser was again one of the heroes for the team from Down Under. He made some tremendous saves to keep the Socceroos in the match.
But the whole team battled to ensure that it didn't concede a third goal. Australia showed great team spirit, and had a lot of luck. After Iran took the early lead, no one at the ground would have bet a cent that the Socceroos would have won.
Time dragged very slowly for the Socceroos, but when the final whistle blew Australia had won the match 3-2 on aggregate. When the game was over, the Socceroos were pelted with scores of small objects from the crowd. Against all odds, Fraser had kept a clean sheet in the second half and Australia had scraped through to the next stage of the World Cup thanks to the barest one goal aggregate margin.
Richards down but not outAfter the game, Iranian captain Ghelchikani, who scored both goals, wept. An Australian came up to him to exchange jerseys. He reluctantly accepted. History took a picture of him hanging a yellow jersey on his shoulders and not wanting to accept the reality.
Iran had been eliminated from playing in the 1974 World Cup in the then West Germany.
That day Iranian football matured. Coach Bayati said so, the Iran Football Federation President said so, and the media wrote: "We lost because we did not know we were going to face a professional team. We did not know how to play against them."
In contrast the Australians were overjoyed. They had a long celebration deep into the night. But they were outraged about the Russian referee. Forward Abonyi was angry about the penalty decision, and he said a few harsh words to the Ref. "I was out of order, later I was happy I had not been sent off. That Russian was a shocker. I am sure that he was paid by the Iranian Football Federation. I saw the gold watch he got before the game and we heard a story about beautiful girls coming out of his hotel room. But we played badly, Ghelchkhani was magnificent in midfield, and the rest of the Iran team followed his example. I tried to say some words in Russian to the referee, but now I am happy that he did not understand." "The penalty was diabolical," Richards said. "But that didn't alter the fact that Ghelchkhani scored and that the goal gave Iran the inspiration to play some brilliant soccer."
"It was touch and go that first half, they were coming at us in waves", said Johnny Watkiss. "But we reached the next stage, that was the only aim."
Great forward AbonyiIt was the second time the Socceroos had survived despite being on the brink of annihilation. This time Tolson deserved most of the praise, as did Rasic for perceiving the contribution Tolson could make.
"Despite being two goals down, the Australian players pulled themselves off the floor, regained composure, and ended the game on top of Iran.
This is the sign that a team had reached maturity", Rasic said. "The team has been under tremendous pressure in Teheran, with constant niggling incidents reminding them the stakes were high. The crowd gave great encouragement to Iran and showed obvious hatred for Australia. This, along with the altitude problem, the furnace-like heat, and the fine performance of the Iran team, makes the win in the series incredible."
Abonyi, Wilson, and a few other players wanted to go from Teheran to Baghdad, Iraq, for a short visit. The price for the flight was very cheap - around US$ 30. But the players were unable to obtain visas in
such a short time, so the whole team returned home, looking forward to the final qualification match.
The next and last opponent would be Australia's soccer rival South Korea. When Korea knocked out Israel in the final of Sub-Group A, it had appeared that little was left to prevent Australia from getting to West Germany.
Israel, after all, had loomed from the start as the biggest threat to the Socceroos. South Korea, on the other hand, had failed to beat Australia in five matches between the two countries since 1967.
The Socceroos were ready to take the final hurdle..........