Goal Singapore Monday Top 5 - Memorable World Cup Qualification Playoffs

With the likes of France, Portugal and Uruguay battling it out for a spot at the World Cup next month, Goal Singapore takes a look at the top 5 qualifying matches in recent years

Playoffs are often regarded as the climax of World Cup qualification due to the drama, jubilation and heartbreak it brings to both fans and players. Next year, we will see either Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal or Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden in Brazil, not both. But before we start to speculate, Goal Singapore looks back as some prolific playoff matches from yesteryears in this week’s Top 5 feature.

5. New Zealand vs Bahrain (2010)

Once regional powerhouse Australia moved to the Asian Football Confederation in 2006, New Zealand’s chances of making it to the big stage were significantly boosted. Superior performances against lesser opposition in the Oceanic group propelled them to the top of the table, and they were awarded a playoff spot with Asian side Bahrain.

After a goalless draw in the first leg, striker Rory Fallon scored the decisive goal in front of the home crowd to send his side into their second World Cup finals. Making it to South Africa greatly boosted the profile of football in a nation where rugby takes centre stage.  

4. Trinidad and Tobago vs Bahrain (2006)

Trinidad and Tobago added some Caribbean flavour to the 2006 World Cup thanks to a scintillating performance during the second leg of their playoff tie against Bahrain. Having scored the crucial away goal in Trinidad a few days before, the Middle Eastern side only needed a clean sheet at home to qualify.

Sadly, it wasn’t their day as Dennis Lawrence powered in a header from a Dwight Yorke corner to seal victory. With a population of just over 1 million, Trinidad claims the honour of being the smallest nation to play at the World Cup.

3. Iran vs Australia (1998)

Imagine a stadium filled with 128,000 people. Yes, a hundred and twenty-eight thousand souls breathing down your necks. That was what the Australian team, featuring players like Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell and Mark Bosnich faced when they took on Iran in Tehran during the first leg of their play off tie. Despite the support, the home side were the underdogs as many felt that Australia possessed too much quality. Unsurprisingly, the game ended 1-1 with Australia holding the crucial away goal. But that counted for nothing during the return game as the Socceroos threw away a two goal lead to allow Iran to qualify via away goals after the tie ended 3-3 on aggregate.

The 80,000 home fans who packed the Melbourne cricket ground were left in disbelief as their country were condemned to yet another four-year wait. To rub salt in wounds, Australia were undefeated in qualification but still failed to make it to France. Meanwhile, scenes of jubilation were witnessed in Iran where the whole nation took to the streets.

2. Australia vs Uruguay (2006)

In the repeat of the 2002 World Cup qualification playoff, the Socceroos ensured that history did not repeat itself by clinching a 4-2 penalty shootout victory in Sydney. With neither team unable to find the telling goal after 120 minutes, spot kicks were needed to settle the tie. It was the first time Australia reached the finals of football's premier tournament since 1974.

The team that qualified for the finals has been dubbed the “golden generation” of Australian football, with names like Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Tim Cahill and Mark Schwarzer forever etched in the minds of the Australian faithful.

1. France vs Republic of Ireland (2010)

Just in case you were living in a box during the build up to the previous World Cup, what happened during the second leg of this game shook the footballing world. With the tie all square at 1-1 after 180 minutes, extra time was played, and the winning goal that France scored at the tail end of the first period was shrouded in controversy.

Les Blues captain Thierry Henry was seen handling the ball twice in the penalty area to stop a Florent Malouda free kick from going out of play, before squaring it to the incoming William Gallas who headed past Shay Given. As officials didn’t see the offence, they awarded France the goal, leaving the Irish contingent incensed and demanding a replay.

Though the incident escalated to a Fifa Disciplinary committee, no action was taken against Henry and France safely qualified for the Finals.