TIM CAHILL made his Everton debut in the spectacular setting of Old Trafford on August 30, 2004 – thanks to a little known Iraqi striker called Emad Mohammed! In the summer of 2004 Cahill had been snapped up from Millwall by David Moyes for the bargain fee of £1.5m.
But while his new team-mates were bouncing back from an opening day mauling by Arsenal to beat Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League, Cahill was playing his football in Greece at the XXVIII Olympiad.
Evertonians would have to wait until Australia’s Olympic involvement ground to a halt to see their new signing, but that moment came sooner than expected.
Iraq were the surprise package of Athens 2004.
In the group stages they managed to upset Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and Costa Rica to book a quarter-final spot – and there they lined up against Cahill’s Socceroos.
Australia were confident of their chances of bringing home a medal from Greece.
After a 1-1 draw with Tunisia they hammered five past Serbia and Montenegro, one of them coming from the head of Everton’s new signing.
Already qualified for the last eight, the final group game against Argentina decided whether they would go through as group winners or runners up.
Against an Argentina side containing glittering talent like Saviola, Tevez, Mascherano, Heinze, Ayala and Coloccini, and destined for the gold medal, a narrow 1-0 win for the South Americans proved significant.
Argentina went through to face the Group D runners up Costa Rica, and romped to a 4-0 victory, while Australia had to face Group D’s surprise winners, Iraq.
The Iraqis proved their group results had been no fluke, and a spectacular overhead kick by Mohammed ensured Cahill was on an early flight to Merseyside. That was on August 21st.
Nine days later he made his debut in a creditable goalless draw at Manchester United, then the following week gave Evertonians a foretaste of the kind of goal they would come to expect from the little Australian on a regular basis – a flying header which proved the matchwinner at Manchester City.
Iraq’s run in Greece came to a halt in the semi-final.
Another surprise in Athens had been Paraguay, who had never won an Olympic medal prior to 2004.
In the semi-final against Iraq (themselves with just a single Olympic medal in 1960), Paraguay triumphed 3-1.
Iraq failed to end the tournament on a high, losing against Italy's more experienced players for the bronze.
Overall, the 2004 Olympic football tournament was not deemed to have been a great success. Most of the matches were very poorly attended, and the quality level of the tournament was low.
But Iraq’s surprise tournament at least meant Evertonians got to see their new Australian signing sooner than expec-ted.