The plan to send on substitute goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne in the event of a penalty shootout in the Socceroos’ World Cup qualifier against Peru had been on the table for weeks, but remained such a secret that not even captain Mat Ryan knew about it.
Ryan was replaced in between the sticks as time ran out at the end of extra-time in Australia’s must-win intercontinental playoff in Qatar, as coach Graham Arnold made the bold call to hand Redmayne just his third international cap at the most critical of junctures.
The decision proved a masterstroke as the Sydney FC keeper went on to make the decisive save, making a crucial dive, low down to his right, to deny Peru’s Alex Valera with the 12th kick of the shootout. His save ensured the Socceroos won 5-4 and will now play in a fifth straight World Cup.
Redmayne, who has become something of a penalty-stopping specialist, said he never thought the Socceroos’ long-winded qualification campaign would end in such a dramatic fashion, even though the plan had been floated “a month to six weeks ago”.
“The longer the camp went on the more comfortable I felt with this scenario,” Redmayne said. “I don’t think any of the players knew about it, a few clocked on at half-time because I went through a few drills to keep the eye in.
“Maty [Ryan] was full of support coming off and then just before penalties as well, he was pumping me up and getting me ready. Maty didn’t know. He said: ‘all the best mate, this is your time’. Even at full-time [at the end of extra-time] when we were in a huddle he said: ‘you’ve got this mate, this is all you’. He was nothing but supportive, he’s an absolute legend.”
Redmayne – whose distinctive style when facing penalties involves dancing along the goalline and waving his arms about, earning himself the nickname “the pink/grey Wiggle”, depending on the colour of his keeper’s jersey – was instantly lauded a national hero, even if the 33-year-old himself was a reluctant one.
“I’m not going to take credit,” Redmayne told Channel 10 after full-time in Qatar. “The boys ran out 120 minutes, and it not only takes 11 on the field but the boys on the bench, the boys in the stands. The boys that missed out in their squad as well. It is a team effort, team game, so I can’t take any more credit than any of the others.
“I’m no hero. I just played my role like everyone else did tonight. Not even the 11 on the pitch, it was much more than that, it is a team effort.”
His introduction was made specifically to unsettle the Peruvian team and derail any of the South Americans’ best-laid plans for the shootout, Redmayne said.
“They [Peru] would have prepared all week thinking Maty was going to be in goals,” Redmayne said. “To put me on would have thrown them a little bit. I spoke to a couple of players in our cohort and they said it would have rattled them having a different goalkeeper come on.”
Arnold confirmed afterwards that the switch was planned and that none of the other Australian players were expecting it.
“He [Ryan] didn’t know about it until his number went up,” Arnold said. “It was fantastic. He understands why we’re doing this together and why we’re the Socceroo family, we’re all a team, everyone has their role to play. Of course, I think he was a little bit surprised, but he took it very well, as a captain should.
“I planned it a few weeks ago. It’s more about the mental side of it, the mental aspect. They probably would have looked at Maty Ryan before and what he does in penalties. They would never have seen Andrew Redmayne before. At the same time, when I made the substitution to bring Andrew Redmayne on they probably asked themselves why.
“The one that they missed and the other one that hit the post, it probably made the penalty takers try to hit the ball even harder or even closer to the post knowing that he was taller than Maty. For that reason, that’s why I did it.”
The Socceroos got off to the worst possible start in the shootout when Martin Boyle saw his first kick saved by Pedro Gallese, but Australia got back on level terms at 2-2 when Luis Advíncula struck a post. Aaron Mooy, Craig Goodwin, Ajdin Hrustic, Jamie Maclaren and Awer Mabil all scored to set the stage for the dramatic denouement.
“I’m just so proud of the players,” Arnold said. “No one knows what those boys have been through to get to here. It was so hard, the whole campaign, and the way they’ve stuck at it and committed themselves to it is incredible.
“They have been through so much, 20 World Cup qualifiers, 16 away from home, it has been tough but we did it.”
Arnold’s job had been the subject of speculation amid a disastrous run earlier this year that threatened to derail his team’s qualification campaign, but after overseeing the win over Peru, who are ranked 20 places above Australia by Fifa, the coach said “the doubters don’t bother me”.
Hrustic went closest for the Socceroos in regulation time with a curling effort that went just wide just before the full-time whistle, while Edison Flores nearly broke the deadlock for Peru – and Australian hearts – with a header that struck Ryan’s upright in the 109th minute.
The full World Cup draw will be completed after Costa Rica and New Zealand meet on Wednesday for the final place still up for grabs.