Australia’s Andrew Redmayne joins list of Socceroos immortals after shootout heroics earn World Cup place
Between 1986 and 2018, the football-mad Peruvians sat in the CONMEBOL wilderness, with 34 long years spent waiting for another chance to see their nation once again on football’s grandest stage. In Australia, football fans suffered a similar fate between 1974 and 2006, with 32 years spent holding out hope that one day their game, marginalised and pushed to the outer by the Australian mainstream, would get its moment in the sun.
Both sets of true believers were eventually rewarded for their patience — Peru ending its long absence from the world’s biggest sporting event at the 2018 World Cup and the Socceroos qualifying for four-straight tournaments after breaking their drought in 2006 — but on Monday in Qatar, one cohort was guaranteed to add to their history of heartache to the benefit of the other.
And now, at the end of 120 minutes and a penalty shootout for the ages, it is La Blanquirroja who will have to live with the haunting image of Andrew Redmayne diving to his right to deny Alex Valera to dash their hopes of back-to-back World Cups. Cope with the memories of his dancing on the goal line, so exuberant that he almost fell over, as Valera commenced his run. Battle with the image of his massive smile, as big as the laughing clowns at the carnival ball game, as the enormity of his save sunk in.
Yet one fan base’s villain is another’s hero. And the scenes that will torment the heartbroken South Americans will now go down in Australian sporting folklore.
The still of Awer Mabil, Martin Boyle and Crag Goodwin leading the charge off the halfway line can now be placed alongside the scenes of the Golden Generation celebrating the penalty that sent them to the 2006 World Cup in the annals of the local game’s history. Redmayne’s jig and beaming expression will be immortalised both alongside John Aloisi sprinting along the touchline in the aftermath of that 2005 penalty but also in countless memes and reactions until they turn the internet off.
“I’m a bit lost for words,” the keeper said.
“I can’t thank the team enough, the staff enough. I’m not going to take credit for this because the boys ran out 120 minutes. It not only takes the 11 on the field but the boys on the bench, the boys in the stands, the boys that missed out on this squad, as well.”
“It’s a team effort; it’s a team game. I can’t take any more credit than the other 27 that are here,” Redmayne added.
“I’m no hero; I just played my role like everyone else did tonight.”
As the dust settles and reflection commences, Redmayne’s moment is one that becomes more incredible with every detail that is recalled. Subbed on in the dying stages of the game for Mat Ryan, whose heroics throughout the cycle were arguably the only reason that Australia had even managed to secure a playoff place, his introduction was the biggest gamble of coach Graham Arnold’s career.
The keeper’s greatest moment might have arrived when he delivered Sydney FC a penalty shootout victory over Perth Glory in the 2018-19 Grand Final. But by the time 2022 rolled around, there was even debate amongst the Sky Blues’ fan base if it was he or backup Tom Heward-Belle that should be the starter going forward.
Objectively, Redmayne had been outperformed at a domestic level by the likes of Mark Birighitti and Jamie Young throughout the 2021-22 season, and his selection as Australia’s third choice behind Ryan and Danny Vukovic was seen as more of a vibes and locker room camaraderie pick than one based on footballing form.
Had Redmayne’s heroics not come off, his replacement of Ryan in the 120th minute would have been nailed to the epitaph of Arnold’s coaching career, a final act of hubris and reliance on familiar faces that served to dash Australian hopes.
But it did bear fruit, and having come close to being sacked after defeats against Japan and Saudi Arabia gave his side just one win in their past seven group games and consigned them to a playoff path, Arnold will now become just the third Australian to lead his nation to a World Cup.
The 58-year-old’s bombastic rhetoric and pragmatic, risk-averse approach to the footballing side of things have done him no favours in the eyes of an increasingly sceptical public, but his commitment to the Socceroos badge is beyond reproach. A willingness to spend arduous periods in quarantine, on the road and away from friends and families are an admirable feature of his stint, deserving significantly more respect than what has been given. It’s possible to take issue with his performance as a coach while acknowledging his sacrifice and commitment.
“I’m quite speechless because no one in Australia gave us a chance,” Arnold said.
“I’m accountable for the results. But I’m a coach and manager; my style is management and getting the best out of players and doing things face-to-face, being on the training pitch with them.”
“During COVID having to train and try to do meetings and talk to the players on Zoom meetings, it’s not my style,” he continued. “I didn’t like it at all, and to be honest, there was times when I nearly walked away because it’s not my style of coaching.
“The only reason I didn’t walk away is because of the players and the sacrifices they’ve made.”
Arnold’s side started the contest in a somewhat encouraging fashion, especially in contrast to a flat-footed Peruvian outfit. Almost an avatar for the “Aussie DNA” that Arnold has spoken of with his bash-and-crash style of attacking, Mitch Duke grabbed a long ball forward from defender Bailey Wright and blasted wide in just the third minute to flash an early warning sign. The 31-year-old repeated his efforts three minutes later.
The reason for Duke’s deployment at the tip of the Socceroos’ spear by Arnold soon became apparent as the formula for the rest of the first half began to unveil itself.
In extended periods of possession, the Socceroos would look to knock the ball around the backline and the dropping Aaron Mooy before eventually looking to fire a pass long to one of the advanced players — often out wide — before getting into the box. It wasn’t altogether effective, but to expect Arnold to change his approach at this stage of qualifying would have been folly, especially given the underdog nature of his side in this game.
Meanwhile, the void that had been created by the injured Yoshimar Yotun‘s absence was evident in Peru’s buildup, as was the burden of expectation brought on by a combination of favourite status and 12,000 supporters in the stands as compared to at most 500 Australians. Though able to deny their foes sustained control of the ball and genuinely threatening looks on goal, there was a distinct lack of imagination and purpose in their resulting attacks.
The Socceroos weren’t exactly playing decisive and incisive calcio — the madness of the result will likely obfuscate that it took until the 81st minute for Ajdin Hrustic to provide the game’s first shot on target, from a set piece, and that the side struggled to gain meaningful territory without speculative long balls forward — but their more highly fancied foes didn’t either. And the game descending into a struggle favoured Australia and a defence that looked more stout than against the United Arab Emirates. There was a reason for hope for those with green and gold in their hearts.
But the sides couldn’t be separated after 90 minutes, forcing both — along with the fans riding on every tackle, every pass, and every collision — to steel themselves for the crushing confines of extra time. In another moment that will hover over the shattered Peruvians, Edison Flores would hit the post with a header just minutes into the second half of extra time — the best chance that his side would produce throughout the entire game.
And then, Redmayne happened. After Mooy, Goodwin, Hrustic, Jamie Maclaren and Mabil all nailed their penalties to give Australia life — Boyle undoubtedly the most grateful man in Qatar after he missed his side’s opener — the grey Wiggle came forth. And immortality was sealed.