Australia bid farewell to Tim Cahill as legend retires in win over Lebanon

SYDNEY -- Tim Cahill was already in tears as he pulled on the No. 4 Australia shirt for the last time. With eight minutes remaining in the friendly against Lebanon at ANZ Stadium, his side 3-0 up, at 9.25p.m. the 38-year-old embraced every player on the bench and, after a hug from coach Graham Arnold, made his way over to the fourth official.

When Cahill ran on, the second biggest cheer of the night reverberated around stadium -- the crowd on their feet to acknowledge the greatest player Australia has ever seen. The first had been the raucous applause minutes earlier when pictures of Cahill merely lacing up his boots in preparation for his big moment appeared on the big screen.

When Cahill ran to warm up on 75 minutes, the cameras and crowd were almost solely focused on him despite the ongoing game. That's how much he means to Australian fans.

Scottish-born Australian Martin Boyle may have bagged a brace on his starting debut, Awer Mabil looked lively and Matthew Leckie scored a third as Australia accounted for Lebanon. But this night was all about Cahill.

Wearing the captain's armband and with his family taking pictures of his final international appearance, Cahill was denied the fairytale finish of a 51st international goal on 87 minutes when a header was blocked by the Lebanon defence, but the smile on his face at full-time said it all.

As his family ran onto the field to escort him up to the custom-made stage for a farewell presentation there were few fans without a tear in their eye. The tears of his four children flowed freely and man of the moment got emotional too as he bade farewell.

"To the coaches and the players, without you I'd be nothing, thank you from the bottom of my heart," Cahill said. "The most important people, as well, are the fans. Every time I wore the green and gold I played from the heart. I just want to tell you all this is just as much for you as it is for me. Thank you very much Australia."

So much has been asked of Cahill over his 14-year international career; time after time he's had to be the saviour in the crucial moments.

At the 2006 World Cup, with Australia running out of time against a Japan side leading 1-0, he provided the equaliser -- Australia's first goal at a World Cup finals. Then he bagged the winner on 89 minutes too.

He popped up again in the 2007 Asian Cup against Oman with a stoppage-time equaliser to keep Australia alive. Then in the 2015 edition netted an overhead kick against China, followed by a header (the Cahill trademark) in the quarterfinal, as the Socceroos progressed to win the first silverware since the Oceania Nations Cup in 2004.

Add in an extra-time winner against Syria (after scoring the first in the 2-1 win) in a World Cup qualifier in October 2017 to ensure Australia would seal a World Cup playoff place -- eventually beating Honduras to secure a fourth consecutive appearance at the tournament -- and you get a picture of how heavily Australia has relied on Cahill's brilliance.

The midfielder had nothing left to prove in the international game after 108 international caps, which included four World Cups, three Asian Cups and 50 international goals against 29 different countries. Cahill has done it all.

Only 37 players have ever played at four World Cups: the fact Cahill scored in three puts him in an elite club which includes names such as Diego Maradona, Roberto Baggio, Jurgen Klinsmann and Michel Platini.

That's before you consider a club career of over 500 games and 100 goals where he made his mark with Millwall and was the darling of the Everton faithful in England. A stint in the United States with New York Red Bulls was followed by time in China with Shanghai Shenhua and Hangzhou Greentown, before a short-lived foray back home with Melbourne City brought him full-circle back to Millwall in a bid to gain selection for a fourth World Cup.

Cahill will play out his club career with Jamshedpur FC in India -- whose link-up with Spanish giant Atletico Madrid points to a strengthening of the post-career Cahill brand - and The Tim Cahill Academy in Australia is going strong. He has even revealed that he would consider taking charge of a national team in the future.

But as Cahill heads back to India for club commitments then on to spend much deserved time with his family, Socceroo fans filing out of ANZ stadium will know they have just witnessed the end of a special career. His final game may not have been filled with the drama of old, but Australian football may never see a player with his talent again.