Don't let Honduras be a repeat of Iran, warns Lazaridis

Australian golden generation star Stan Lazaridis knows what it's like to suffer World Cup heartbreak - but believes the Socceroos will avoid that fate against Honduras on Wednesday night.

Australia v Iran 1997

Craig Foster (L) and Steve Horvat (R) are inconsolable after Australia's 1998 FIFA World Cup failure. Source: Getty Images

Lazaridis, now 45, was a member of the Socceroos side which conceded a two-goal advantage against Iran in 1997 on home soil to suffer the agony of a play-off exit which crushed the nation.

Recollections of that late mugging at MCG still haunt the former West Ham and Birmingham flyer, and he admits to a sense of unease ahead of the duel at Sydney's ANZ Stadium between the Central Americans and the Socceroos.

After a goalless first leg in which Australia should have scored at least twice to put the tie to bed, 60-cap Lazaridis has conflicting feelings over the return.

"I'm feeling both nervous and confident at the same time," he said.

"The way we went out on away goals against Iran was a heartbreaker.

"We could have won by six that day and were clearly the better team.

"I don't want to see us go through that sort of devastation again.

"It's a tricky one ... the team played well over in San Pedro Sula (on Saturday) without getting a just reward.

"My concern is that Honduras didn't play well as well as maybe they can and can perhaps they only improve on that.

"We need to kill the game off with a couple of goals inside the first hour.

"If we manage that I don't think you'll see Honduras come back at us the way Iran did (with two strikes in the last 15 minutes).

"We're clearly a better team than Honduras. I expected more from them."

Lazaridis feels the return from injury and suspension of Mathew Leckie, Robbie Kruse, Mark Milligan - and likely starts for Tom Rogic and Tim Cahill - will provide the firepower to calm the nerves and cut down Honduras.

"There are at least three of four changes there that I expect Ange to make," he added.

"And they could make all the difference because what we need is goals.

"We've had a far better recovery than Honduras with the charter flight home and that's also a big advantage.

"Honduras will try and drag the game out ... they'll be thinking 'even if Australia score, we just need a single goal.

"They will be tired for sure but will try and frustrate us as Sweden did to Italy last night (in knocking the Azzurri out of the World Cup in their playoff).

"Italy had 75 per cent possession but couldn't score. I think Honduras will adopt the same policy.

"But Ange Postecoglou will know this - there are no smoke and mirrors here.

"What happened to us against Iran is a lesson to learn from and Ange will be alive every permutation and possibility."

Lazaridis saw an uncomfortable trend continue in the first leg where chances came and went without being capitalized upon.

"That's been the story of our qualifying campaign," he added. "Timmy Cahill, if he'd been playing, would have buried one of those.

"We played well but when it comes to the money shot, we've been lacking.

"If we'd been taking our chances along the way in the group stage Ange wouldn't have to be doing this right now."

Should Australia prevail, Lazaridis believes there's only one man to lead Australia to Russia.

And that's Postecoglou, despite the uncertainty surrounding his future.

"People have been talking about whether Ange is the right man and playing three at the back. But the system is not the problem. There was no problem with the system when we played against Honduras.

"It's all about the personnel adapting to the system.

"It's been about players making mistakes which Ange can't be accountable for.

"He's still the right man for us.

"You had ex-Socceroos like Mark Bosnich and Robbie Slater suggesting for him to go, and perhaps I was one of a few who kept backing and supporting him.

"Now a lot of his critics are changing their tune ... I believe he's taken all this on to deflect away from the players.

"I believe he will take us to the World Cup should we get through.

"He is the still the man take forward ... he has earned the right after all he's copped.

"Now his players need to fight for him and die for him on the field.

"He's taken all the punches for them, with absolutely no personal gain for himself."

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4 min read
Published 14 November 2017 at 7:21pm
By Dave Lewis