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Remembering when a Charlie Yankos free-kick put Oz football on the map

Charlie Yankos: could hit a free-kick. (Photo by Tony Feder/GettyImages).
Expert
23rd May, 2018
25
3975 Reads

Continuing our countdown of the best moments in Socceroos history, we look back at a player who helped put Australian football on the map.

Charlie Yankos might not be the first name on a teamsheet of Socceroos greats, but the former skipper did his fair share to pave the way for the golden generation that followed.

The 1980s were a fallow period for the Socceroos.

After finishing a dismal second to New Zealand in their 1982 qualifying group – the Kiwis eventually made their tournament debut in Spain – there was more disappointment in store when the Socceroos lost to a strong Scotland side to miss out on 1986 as well.

And the following qualification campaign ended in familiar scenes of heartbreak at a packed Sydney Football Stadium in April 1989, when Italian referee Carlo Longhi added barely a minute of an additional time amid scenes of farcical time-wasting against an Israeli side for whom the 1-1 draw was enough to progress.

The very first player to remonstrate with Longhi was none other than captain Charlie Yankos. It was his final game for the Socceroos.

But in between the disappointment of missing out in consecutive qualifying campaigns, Yankos helped contribute to one of the best moments in Socceroos history.

And perhaps – inadvertently at least – alerted Argentina to the fact that the Socceroos are not a team to be taken lightly.

The 1988 Bicentennial Gold Cup was a curious tournament if ever there was one.

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Despite years in the international doldrums, Soccer Australia somehow managed to convince reigning world champions Argentina and the then number one ranked side in the world, Brazil, to make the long trek down under to play in a nationwide tournament to celebrate Australia’s bicentenary.

Their presence was rounded out by Saudi Arabia – the reigning champions of Asia who were coached at the time by Brazilian great, Carlos Alberto Parreira.

And the games were broadcast by the ABC, who had roped in the ever-candid Johnny Warren as analyst alongside a fresh-faced Martin Tyler as commentator.

And Warren, true to form, was ropable when he saw the state of the Parramatta Stadium pitch for the game against the Saudis – which looked more like something you’d race dirt bikes on than host an international friendly.

“I’m embarrassed as an Australian, as a soccer person, that the pitch is an absolute disgrace,” Warren raged.

Some things never change.

But one thing that did change was the way major football nations started to view the Socceroos.

That’s because after a credible 1-0 defeat to Brazil in Melbourne – for whom Romario scored the only goal – and a comfortable 3-0 win over Saudi Arabia, the Socceroos then took on Argentina at the Sydney Football Stadium.

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And it was an Argentine side not without its fair share of talent – Oscar Ruggeri, Diego Simeone and Sergio Batista among them – even if Diego Maradona predictably failed to make the trip.

The game was delicately poised at 1-1 after goals from those two warhorses, Paul Wade and Ruggeri, had cancelled each other out.

Then up stepped Yankos to take his place in Socceroos history.

“Just before half time we were awarded a free kick,” Yankos said years later.

“I have been trying to hit the target in many, many games and most of the time the ball hits some spectator in the grandstand.

“On this particular occasion, I can remember everyone just saying, hit it, hit it, hit the target and I just went for it.”

He sure did. Yankos’ piledriver swerved viciously in the air and ended up flashing past Luis Islas in the Argentina goal.

It was one of the most spectacular goals ever scored by a Socceroo. And it helped propel Australia to a shock 4-1 win over the visitors.

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The result meant Australia qualified for the final of the Gold Cup, where they went down 2-0 to Brazil at a packed Sydney Football Stadium.

More importantly, it gave coach Frank Arok and his team the belief that they could take on the world’s best.

And that’s exactly what they did at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, beating a powerful Yugoslavia in the group stage en route to reaching the quarter-finals.

As we count down the greatest moments in Socceroos history, we want you to tell us what your favourites are. Have your say in the picker below!

Check out the rest of the countdown:
10. Australia’s performances – and Tim Cahill’s goal – in 2014
9. When we almost qualified for USA 94
8. Charlie Yankos’ stunning free-kick against Argentina
7. Beating France and Brazil in 2001
6. England 3, Australia 1: Beating the Poms in their own backyard
5. Knocking Croatia out of Germany in the craziest game in Australian history
4. Australia’s historic 3-1 win over Japan in Kaiserslautern
3. Making our debut on the world stage in 1974
2. Winning the Asian Cup in Australia
1. John Aloisi’s penalty

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