Football: Socceroo Skoko sees similarities with Lithuanian team

Josip Skoko

Later this month Lithuania will travel to Wembley stadium to battle England for the first time in International football history.

“On the night, when things go well, anything can happen,” preaches Skoko, a 51-game representative of the Australian national football team.

Now retired, the former Olympian revealed that he and his national teammates were in the same position in 2003 when challenging England’s national team at Upton Park.

“This was a big deal for us at the time because we were all so excited to play; we never thought we were going to come away with a win,” said Skoko.

“In fact had it been any other night I might not have played but I was so keen to play England I sort of played a little bit injured.”

England entered the match fresh from the 2002 FIFA World Cup while Australia, still competing under the Oceania banner, entered its 29th year since last competing in football’s prestigious tournament.

Though these two teams had already met five times between 1980-91 (resulting in two draws and three English wins) this night would be the two nation’s first matchup away from Australia.

“It was a bit of a weird atmosphere because the stadium was closed in and you could feel the wintery conditions however I can say that the crowd was pretty electric,” Skoko recalled.

“I might not have been on the field for too long but we had to stop the likes of David Beckham who was at the top of his game (at the time) so we had our work cut out.”

Nobody had anticipated Crystal Palace defender Tony Popovic to score the game’s opener or for Harry Kewell to dance around England’s last line of defence to find the back of the net.

Yet these goals proved to be enough to see Australia take out the lead at the main break; silencing a crowd of 34,500.

“I can also remember that England actually played the first half with one selected eleven and then in the other half they played another,” Skoko recalled.

“There were five new players, I think (17-year-old) Wayne Rooney came on for his first ever International game and Frans Jeffers even scored; he went onto play in Newcastle (Australia).”

Nevertheless a late goal to Feyenoord midfielder Brett Emerton would secure Australia’s historic 3:1 win, success Skoko hopes Lithuania can emulate at Wembley Stadium later this month.

See match England v. Australia match highlights:

“I think this game will be pretty similar to what we went through that night,” said Skoko.

“You just have to go out there and give it your best because you have nothing to lose when you’re playing against England.”

“Anything can happen, we never expected to win 3:1 but we just went in there full of confidence and gave it our best.”

He added, “You’re not expected to win but in saying that Lithuania, from what I’ve heard, is a quality side.”

“I don’t think Lithuania will be outclassed skill wise and when you lift against a big team generally you’ll play really well.”

England has fallen to 17th on the FIFA world ranking board despite winning its last six games.

Now captained by Wayne Rooney, 29, who played in his 100th International against Slovenia last November, Skoko also believes that England’s improvement cannot be denied.

“I think England is probably the most stable that they have been in years, a lot of the younger players that they have had coming through are now established,” said Skoko.

“England overall aren’t too bad but I certainly would not say they’re unbeatable.”

Even if England can’t hold off the Baltic nation in this historic meeting, they will still hold top spot on the UEFA Euro qualifying group table ahead of Switzerland, Slovenia and Lithuania.

The Swiss will play host to Estonia while Slovenia should be too strong for San Marino.

Skoko added, “Switzerland has been a powerful force in football for quite some time now so I’d think any of the world’s top ten teams are going to be hard to beat.”

Josip Skoko represented Australia 51 times from March 12, 1997 until September 11, 2007, kicking 9 goals and representing his host nation at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He was also a noted figure at Hajduk Split (Croatia), Genk (Belgium), Gençlerbirliği (Turkey), Wigan Athletic & Stoke City (England) and a founding member of the Melbourne Heart/City squad.

See his goal against Greece in Melbourne before 95,103 at the MCG:

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