Socceroos need a new mindset for Honduras

The Socceroos could do worse than explore the merits of ditching their gung-ho mentality and adopting a more prudent approach when they face Honduras in the first leg of the intercontinental play-off for a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.


Australia line up for their home game with Syria Source: AFP

Australia have made possession-based attack their main weapon since Ange Postecoglou took over the national coach job in late 2013.

For which we should all be grateful. It's how we would like our team to play.

But just for this one game - against the hungry Hondurans in San Pedro Sula where conditions are expected to be extremely tough and the pressure to survive at its most intense - it might be worth the Socceroos' while to be more cautious and pragmatic than they usually are.

I'm not suggesting the archaic method of parking the bus and hoping for the best - those days are well and truly behind us - but a game plan designed essentially to stifle the opposition might be the way to go.

This notion might go against Postecoglou's bold principles and what he has been trying to achieve in the last four years.

He would be entitled to dismiss it out of hand and point out that there is no point in dithering with the team's mentality whenever the going gets tough.

Yet the desperate situation the Socceroos find themselves in, after appearing to be well placed to gain automatic entry to the finals in Russia, calls for desperate measures.

The Socceroos are not playing particularly well and to make matters worse they could be without two strong defensive midfielders in the first leg.

Mile Jedinak came on for 30 minutes for Aston Villa in the derby against Birmingham City as he tries to shake off a debilitating groin problem while Mark Milligan is suspended.

Postecoglou might have to make do with a makeshift midfield in the first match which takes place on November 11 (AEDT).

Los Catrachos, named after a 19th century Honduran general, will be tougher to beat than the modest Syrians, who gave the Australians an almighty fright before losing 3-2 on aggregate.

For this reason Postecoglou might want to explore the ramifications of playing in a way that does not leave his players exposed to fast counter-attacks as has been the case on several occasions in this campaign.

The problem is that with only two training sessions available to him before the first leg, the coach might not have enough time to change things around, provided he chooses to go that way.

The Socceroos' vulnerability to the counter-attack, particularly when they lose the ball in the front third of the pitch, emerged in the early part of this qualifying campaign and the weakness has yet to be fixed, regardless of whether Postecoglou opts for three or four defenders.

Three at the back appears to be set in stone so there is little chance the Socceroos will go with a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. But the choice of personnel, such as fewer attack-minded players for example, might just be the answer.

Make no mistake, this match at the Estadio Olimpico will provide the Socceroos with a massive test of their resolve and temperament, not to mention their technical capacity.
And the last thing Postecoglou needs is an unenviable job of having to overturn even a minimal defeat, particularly if the Australians do not get an away goal.

Which is why the Socceroos will have to tread carefully in the first leg that will be held on a hot and humid afternoon to avoid the need to stage a comeback in the return leg in Sydney on November 15.

Some observers pointed out that the Australians should have adopted a prudent game plan when they faced Japan in the qualifying group's penultimate match in Saitama. A draw would have virtually sealed their place in Russia but they lost 2-0.

Postecoglou cannot afford a repeat result against the Hondurans, who would feel as confident as the Australians of going through.

Which is why the Socceroos might be better served if - for just this one occasion - they forego their basic instincts of attack in favour of a no-frills game plan designed to limit as much as possible the Hondurans' threat.

Postecoglou does not need reminding of the importance to the game in Australia that the Socceroos negotiate the final hurdle to Russia successfully.

So the coach will not be seen as though he is back-tracking on his philosophy if he opted for caution. It's called common sense in the pursuit of success.

Great teams and famous managers would have no hesitation in doing the same thing when they need to as long as they do not make it their modus operandi.

Yes, they might be criticised but, really, who cares if they get the job done!

The Socceroos and Postecoglou are no different.

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5 min read
Published 30 October 2017 at 10:22am
By Philip Micallef