Socceroos poised to inflict mortal blow on Honduras

ANALYSIS: When the going gets tough the tough get going: the Socceroos showed in the Honduran hotbed of San Pedro Sula that this is not just a well worn cliche but a true reflection of their strong character.


Massimo Luongo competes for the ball with Alfredo Mejia of Honduras during Source: LatinContent WO

Ange Postecoglou’s team took a major step towards qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup with a 0-0 draw in a tense intercontinental play-off.

The Australians were the better team and on another occasion they probably would have ended up with a deserved victory but an away draw in a home-and-away World Cup qualifier is not something to sneer at.

The positive result nicely sets up the return at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Wednesday.

A win by any margin would earn Australia their fourth straight World Cup participation.

We were all a bit worried about the frame of mind of the Socceroos players after they were forced to undergo the lottery of two play-offs against Syria and Honduras, having failed to win automatic qualification due to various circumstances.

The fact that we knew so little about the Hondurans heightened our anxiety.

But we did not need to be so anxious.

The Socceroos have shown on many occasions that when it comes to fighting spirit, resolve and self-belief no realistic target is beyond them and we should always trust them to come up with the goods, especially when they are under the gun as they have been in the last two months.

Examples of their mental strength and capacity to prove their critics wrong are plentiful and go back a long way and this match in Honduras, with so much at stake, was just one of them.

Postecoglou ought to be commended for getting the midfield combination right.

The coach opted to start with the industrious Jackson Irvine instead of the more skilful but physically inferior Tom Rogic and his three-at-the-back formation that was impeccably marshalled by Trent Sainsbury and protected by returning captain Mile Jedinak who acted as a ‘sweeper’ in front of the defence worked a treat.
Wingback Aziz Behich did particularly well on the left side and combined beautifully with playmaker Aaron Mooy until the heavy and bumpy pitch took its toll on his legs late in the game.

It also was heartening to see Massimo Luongo produce the sort of creative football that earned him the player of the series award at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.

Honduras were exposed by the Mooy-Luongo combination.

The Australians dominated possession for long periods and had every reason to feel disappointed to remain scoreless.

Striker Tomi Juric had the first half’s best opportunity when he broke free of his marker but when he pulled the trigger the ball bobbled up and went just wide, much to Postecoglou’s despair.

Juric had another golden opportunity to score in the second half when he rose beautifully to meet a cross from Josh Risdon but he headed straight at the keeper with the goal at his mercy.

This is where you miss guys like veteran striker Tim Cahill, who was wisely rested as he completes his recovery from the rolled ankle he suffered last weekend.

The Australians should feel satisfied with their effort in San Pedro Sula if not entirely with the result.

A goal would have been nice but all in all it was a very positive performance and a possible full house in Sydney on Wednesday night should help the Socceroos put the icing on the cake of a long and tortuous qualifying campaign.

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Published 11 November 2017 at 12:08pm
By Philip Micallef