Asian Icons: Tim Cahill
As Australia's all-time top scorer Tim Cahill turns 38, the-AFC.com profiles the latest player in our series of 'Asian Icons'.
Kuala Lumpur: When Tim Cahill rose high to meet Robbie Kruse’s centre in extra time against Syria in November, there was an air of inevitability about where the ball would end up as the trademark goal secured a 2-1 victory and kept Australia’s FIFA World Cup dreams alive.
It was the 50th time Cahill had netted for his country as he underlined his status as an Australian sporting legend ahead of securing qualification to his fourth World Cup. And the forward, who turns 38 today, is deservedly the-AFC.com’s next ‘Asian Icon’.
Clubs: Millwall, Everton, New York Red Bulls, Shanghai Shenhua, Hangzhou Greentown, Melbourne City
International appearances (goals): 104 (50)
Cahill switched Sydney for London as a teenager to pursue his dream of playing professionally and made his Millwall debut in 1998 in the first of six years with the club.
The attacking midfielder helped his side win the third-tier title in the 2000-01 campaign, but shot to fame by starring in The Lions' run to the 2004 FA Cup final, when he scored the decisive goal in the 1-0 semi-final win over Sunderland, before defeat to Manchester United in the final.
Cahill’s form earned him a move to English Premier League side Everton, where he would spend the next eight seasons and develop into a firm fans’ favourite as he made well over 200 appearances and scored at a rate of a goal every four games.
After being part of the Australia side that finally ended a 32-year wait to appear at a second FIFA World Cup, a 26-year-old Cahill and his teammates would line up in Group F in Germany, alongside Brazil, Croatia and Japan.
Trailing 1-0 at the interval in their tournament opener against Japan, head coach Guus Hiddink brought on Cahill early in the second half as the Socceroos sought a way back into the contest.
The then-Everton man responded in emphatic style as he pounced on a loose ball in the penalty area to fire home from 10 yards to level the scores with six minutes remaining, before adding a second with a sweeping effort from 20 yards as Australia eventually won 3-1.
With Australia now part of the Asian Football Confederation, the Socceroos participated in their first AFC Asian Cup in 2007, and it was Cahill who again bagged the historic goal as he secured a 1-1 draw with Oman with a close-range equaliser in the 92nd minute.
The tournament again witnessed Cahill’s customary corner flag celebration four years later when he scored a brace in a 4-0 group stage win over India in Qatar as the Australians eventually advanced to the final.
Defeat in extra time to Japan followed but the Socceroos were now a force on the continent and would return in style in four years’ time.
With Australia making a second successive World Cup appearance in 2010, Cahill scored the winner in a 2-1 group stage victory over Serbia in South Africa, but the Socceroos ultimately exited at the first hurdle as Germany and Ghana, the latter on goal difference, advanced to the knockout rounds above them.
Four years later in Brazil, now under head coach Ange Postecoglou, Australia were drawn in a daunting group alongside Chile, the Netherlands and Spain. Cahill netted his fourth World Cup goal with a towering header in a 3-1 defeat to the Chileans.
He would then score one of the goals of the tournament with a left-foot volley that crashed in off the crossbar against the Dutch, but the eventual 3-2 loss preceded a 3-0 reversal to Spain as the Socceroos were eliminated from the toughest of groups.
Now with New York Red Bulls in the United States, Cahill returned to his homeland for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup and scored as hosts Australia defeated Kuwait 4-1 in the tournament opener.
An acrobatic overhead kick opened the scoring in the quarter-final win over China, before Cahill returned to what he does best – heading – to make it two from 12 yards as Australia marched on to the semi-finals.
The Socceroos then saw off the United Arab Emirates 2-0 in the semi-finals and secured a 2-1 extra-time win over Korea Republic to be crowned kings of Asia for the first time.
The twilight years
Cahill spent two years in China before, in 2016, heading home to Melbourne City, from where he has recently announced his departure. No longer a guaranteed starter for the national team, he would again prove the hero when it mattered most.
Trailing 2-1 on aggregate to Syria in the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 Continental Play-off, Cahill levelled the scores before heading home his half century of goals in extra time to move his nation to within two games of the biggest stage of all.
And, after seeing off Honduras in the ensuing Intercontinental Play-off, Cahill is set to make his fourth FIFA World Cup appearance as he looks to become one of just a handful of players to have scored in four successive tournaments in what has been a glittering career.