Sounder-down-Under: The man who got 3 yellow cards

Sounder-down-Under is a look at the beautiful game from the other side of the world, written by Seattle ex-pat Drew Dickson.

Sounder-down-Under is a look at the beautiful game from the other side of the world, written by Seattle ex-pat Drew Dickson.

Dual citizenship is not a new thing, and the idea of having to pick between countries who are vying for your skills is something American football fans are well aware of.  Seven of the nineteen players in the 1950 US side where foreign born.

In 1998 it was down to five with Captain Thomas Dooley was German born (before it was a ‘thing’ in the squad), and most interestingly David Regis was born in Martinique and only eligible though his wife being an American.  He played his first cap in May of 1998, less than a month before the opening match in France.

Now we have Sydney Leroux who was born in Canada before making her way south.  Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Timothy Chandler, John Brooks, and Alfredo Morales were all born in Germany, not to mention our own Mens national team coach.  Juan Agudelo was born in Colombia while William Yarbrough was born south of the border in Mexico. And then there’s Darlington Nagbe.

And these name are just from the most recent squad call ups, not to mention the youngsters making their way up through the ranks.  Being an immigrant nation means that we have a wide pool to choose from, thankfully.  We could have the problem that San Marino faces every time qualifications come around, in how to shut down an entire city in order to field a team.

Australia is also a nation comprised largely of immigrants and their descendants (“some in chains, some by planes” as the saying goes).  And as we know, that means sometimes you feel more attached to the nation of your parents than the place of your birth.  This was the case for Josip Šimunić whose Australian birth would come to haunt an official named Graham Poll.

Šimunić was born in Canberra, Australia’s capitol (no, it is not Sydney), and was recruited to play for the Melbourne Knights, a club with a distinctly Croatian atmosphere.  Making his debut as a teenager during the 1995-6 season and named the National Premier League’s Youth Player of the Year was just a start.

With his Croatian passport in hand, the young Simunic was off to ply his trade in Europe, beginning with Hamburg.  For the better part of the 2000s, Šimunić anchored the back line of several Bundesliga teams before a transfer to Croatia’s powerhouse of Dinamo Zagreb brought him to the land of his family.  He remained at the club until announcing his retirement in December of 2014, calling an end to his nearly 20 years as a professional footballer.

Josip Šimunić

Australian born, Croatian National Josip Šimunić via Wikipedia

But in 2001, a call came from the Croatian National team to play for them.

At this time, Australia’s national side was mired in the Oceanic Football Federation, unable to break the shackles of having to go into a playoff against the South American teams to make it to the world stage.

Playing in Europe, where Šimunić was already based seemed like an easy choice.  But he was faced with a slight dilemma.  By definition, his family were Croatian, but not by birth.

Both his parents were ethnically Croatian, but as the breakup of the Former Yugoslavia showed the world, ethnicity didn’t necessarily remain confined behind a line drawn on a map.  The Šimunić family had been born in what is today Bosnia.

The legality got sorted and Šimunić donned the red and white checks of Croatia in 2001.  He would see time on the field for all matches in Korea/Japan as well as returning to the squad in 2006, facing the nation of his birth in crucial final match of the group stages.

By this time, Australia had bolstered its footballing ranks.  Part by shipping off some of its youngsters to England, but also in part by a growing love for the game that was driving more interest and investments in the players.

Australia had taken down Japan, coming back from a 1-0 deficit. Now, facing Croatia who had seen a dismal display of 1 point in two games, they needed a win to leapfrog the Aussies who had gain three points from their win over Japan.

The match ended in a draw of 2-2, ending Croatia’s hopes for the knockout stage, but it will forever be known for the bizarre way in which the game ended.

Šimunić had picked up a yellow card in the 61st minute.  In the last minutes before stoppage time, the defender was booked again for a harsh tackle. Šimunić argued his case in what seemed like a no win situation, and no one, including the player, could have been shocked as referee Graham Poll produced a second yellow card.  But no red card followed.


Simunic carded

Card number 2, but not the last via BBC

Šimunić looks startled but puts on a bluff as Poll signals a whistle for a restart.  Why no Australian player came up and pointed out the fact to Graham Poll has been speculated on.  The books at the end of the game showed that in the 90th, Poll had marked a card for #3 Australia (Craig Moore).

Poll, an Englishman, heard the familiar Australian accent that was venting at him. But it came from Šimunić albeit in a Croat red jersey, and in a lapse of concentration Poll put down the wrong country. This was confirmed in 2007 in Poll’s autobiography.

The world would be righted again in stoppage time as Šimunić would once again be carded for abusing Graham Poll (his third), and at last a red card was shown.

It was not the most bizarre exit made during that World Cup, and like Zidane in the final match it would also be the last time either Josip Šimunić or Graham Poll would see a World Cup match from the grounds.


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