Cahill, Kewell and Viduka glory days long gone as Australia bow out with a whimper

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The Socceroos had gone into their game against Peru with qualification for the last 16 still a possibility but their limitations were brutally exposed

On June 26, 2006, Australia were eliminated from the World Cup by Italy following a controversial 95th minute penalty won by Fabio Grosso and scored by Francesco Totti. Exactly 12 years later they once again bowed out, but this time around there was nothing unfortunate about their exit.

The contrast in quality between the Socceroos' squads of 2006 and 2018 is stark. Indeed, the only connection between the two is Tim Cahill. 

On that notorious day in Kaiserslautern, he had started alongside Mark Viduka in a side that also featured fellow Premier League players Lucas Neill, Craig Moore and Mark Schwarzer, while only an injury had prevented Harry Kewell from participating. 

On a hot and sticky Tuesday afternoon in Sochi, Cahill sat on the bench and watched as Australia lost their must-win Group C fixture 2-0 to Peru, with Andre Carrillo netting the opener with a wonderful right-footed volley after 18 minutes of play.

Much of the build-up had focused on whether the Socceroos would be denied a place in the last 16 by collusion in Moscow, with both France and Denmark having gone into that game knowing that a draw would ensure top spot for the former, and qualification for the latter.

Ultimately, though, Australia were not done by a nefarious plot but their own lack of quality, particularly in attack. Tom Rogic did sparkle sporadically in the opening 45 minutes, not least with one jinking run into the heart of the Peruvian defence but his weak shot was easily parried away for a corner by Pedro Gallese.

In truth, though, they lacked a real cutting edge up front.

Australia's cause hadn't been aided by the loss of first-choice striker Andrew Nabbout to the shoulder injury he sustained in the dying seconds of the 1-1 draw with Denmark. 

However, the calls for Cahill to start – who is 38 and presently without a club – underlined the desperate lack of options available to Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk.

The former Everton star was introduced in the 53rd minute but, by that stage, Australia were already 2-0 down, with Paolo Guerrero having doubled Peru's advantage just seconds beforehand with a decent hooked finish.

The South Americans' skipper had also been involved in the opener, sending over a cross from the left wing that Carrillo had thumped home with his right foot, and the winger's exquisite, first-time volley highlighted the obvious gulf in technique between the two sides.  

Andre Carrillo Peru 2018 World Cup

Indeed, it was hard not to feel a huge degree of sympathy for the Peruvians players and their fantastic supporters  – there were an estimated 25,000 of them at the Fisht Stadium and they made their presence felt – that victory here did not ensure qualification at the expense of the dour Danes.

They paid for their profligacy, though. Despite their refreshingly attacking style, Carrillo's goal was their first at this World Cup – and indeed at any since 1982 – having failed to find the back of the net in their 27 previous attempts across their two games against Denmark and France.

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Still, they at least bade farewell to a tournament that their fans illuminated with a well-earned victory. Had they been more clinical, particularly against Denmark in their opening game, they would have made the last 16.

By contrast, for all the admirable optimism of the Aussies' fun-loving travelling contingent, the knockout stage always looked beyond a desperately limited squad. Just like Cahill, they are a shadow of their former selves.

It may have only been 12 years ago but, for the vast swathes of green-and-gold followers in attendance, 'The Golden Generation' has never felt so far away.

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