Australia’s coach and players were celebrating after beating Uruguay on penalties on Wednesday to qualify for next year’s World Cup.

Australia’s new Dutch coach Guus Hiddink praised the players for their efforts in overcoming Uruguay on penalties.

“I had just four weeks to work with them,” he said.

“They were so great, these guys. Sometimes it was a little bit tough, sometimes a little bit too harsh, but at the end, this is a great bunch of guys here.”

After 32 years of near misses, the Socceroos finally secured their place in the finals courtesy of a penalty shootout after the teams had finished 1-1 on aggregate over the two legs.

“We thought it was going to happen. We’ve been dreaming of this for 32 years,” said striker John Aloisi.

“You couldn’t ask for a better finish, with 83,000 people here to watch us and 20 million people in Australia following us. I just can’t believe it.”

Australia captain Mark Viduka, who missed his penalty, believes that Australia have nothing to fear next year.

“I’m honoured, I’ve been in the previous teams, the last two campaigns that failed,” Viduka said.

“I have watched as a spectator and you always think you would love to be part of it.

“I believe that we won’t just mix it with the other teams, but compete as well.”

Australian Prime Minister John Howard was among the first to offer his congratulations.

“(It was) fantastic,” he was quoted as telling Australian Associated Press in South Korea where he is attending the APEC forum.

“My faith in penalty shootouts is restored. Congratulations to the team … (to) everybody associated with this tremendous resurgence of soccer in Australia.”

Meanwhile, Uruguayan coach Jorge Fossati issued an apology to his country for the loss.

“I am at the lowest moment in my sporting life today,” Fossati told reporters.

“I am very sorry to the Uruguay public for failing at the last hurdle. (But) I am at peace with myself…the players gave it all, they were like lions to the end.

“I am honoured to have led the Uruguayan side but that’s as much as I can say. I am in no condition to analyse this game of football.”

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