The five things the Socceroos must do to win tonight

With a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup on the line – and the away goals rule looming ominously – Australia will have to tread carefully to get past Honduras at ANZ Stadium.

Jedinak Mooy Ryan

(Left to right) Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak, star midfielder Aaron Mooy and goalkeeper Mat Ryan Source: Getty Images

We take a look at the five things the Socceroos can’t afford to compromise on if they are to defeat the Central American nation when the go head to head at 8pm on Wednesday.

1. Keep calm early – or risk losing it all

There’s been plenty of nostalgia these past few weeks about the 2005 play-off triumph over Uruguay, but also a few lessons, too.

The biggest one might just be this – right from the mouth of then-coach Guus Hiddink, as he rationalised the decision to pull off a hot-headed Tony Popovic early in the second leg in Sydney: "You can’t win matches like these in the first moments. But you can certainly lose them."

Tonight with the score at 0-0, Australia simply cannot afford to concede a goal that will have them chasing the game, forcing them into taking unnecessary risks.

It's better to let the game settle and build dominance as the match goes on, progressively turning the screws as fatigue begins to tell.

Key player: Mile Jedinak. The big man was wonderful in the first leg and brings a calming presence that can guide the Socceroos when the heat is on early.

2. Don't get drawn into a scrap

Sometimes, it suits Australia to get physical. Against Chile in the 2017 Confederations Cup, for example.

But will that sort of tactic be effective against Honduras? Unlikely.

The visitors will relish the opportunity for physical confrontation and will most likely try to slow the game as much as possible, breaking Australia’s hopes of generating sustained periods of momentum.

Ange Postecoglou will set his team to play the way he demands: with the ball, without compromises. Getting sidetracked by a canny Latin team is a sure-fire way to erode the team’s confidence on the night.

Key player: Tomi Juric. The striker is a frequent target for stray studs and elbows – and will be again tonight – but he can’t let his emotions get the better of him.

3. A loss of concentration could kill the dream

Here’s a cold hard reality: at some point tonight, Honduras will be in a position to score the goal that will send them to the 2018 World Cup.

Will it be a case of their single shot on goal being enough to secure their path through to Russia? It could be if the Socceroos get caught napping.

We know all too well what happens when teams lose focus, and with Australia’s three-man defence still very much an experiment, any lapse of concentration could see a player sucked out of position and leave our World Cup dream in tatters.

Key player: Mat Ryan. A brilliant shot-stopper, Ryan needs to make every decision a good one – not only in terms of how he handles incoming attacks, but how he organises his back three and the two wing-backs.

4. Use the pace of Robbie Kruse and Mathew Leckie

This Australian team isn’t littered with stars, but it does have some points of difference that can make all the difference.

Kruse and Leckie missed the first leg through suspension but that could well turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

They’ll arrive in Sydney fit, refreshed and feeling like this is their moment to take advantage of a tired Honduran team.

Both have the capacity to set goals up and also finish them, but more than that is their ability to pull opposition players out of position.


That’s where the value of this formation can really be found, all whist giving more opportunities for Juric and Tim Cahill.

Key player: Aaron Mooy. As the team’s primary distributor, it will be Mooy who goes looking for the clever runs of his two attacking wingers. He can bring them into the game with a flick of his boots.

5. Don’t keep possession for possession’s sake

Progressive possession is fantastic – it means the opposition can’t score – but having the ball without purpose is a common mistake the Socceroos have committed.

Instead of seeking gaps and exploiting teams in transition, Australia have often seemed more determined to get their own shape right before progressing over half-way.

Unfortunately, that often means holding the ball and waiting, which is a gift for opposition teams who only need that split-second to organise some resistance. For long-time watchers of the Socceroos, it’s been a consistent gripe.

It’s not about wanting less of the ball, it’s about maximising the intent when we do have it.

It’s more likely to bring about a more reward or, at the very least, make the opposition a lot less comfortable. Too many times Australia have allowed a lesser team work out their predictable patterns of ball movement.

Key player: Mark Milligan. Like Kruse and Leckie, Milligan missed the first leg and will bring fresh energy. But if he starts, he has to try to avoid making passes that don’t advance the play at the critical time. 

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5 min read
Published 15 November 2017 at 9:38am
By Sebastian Hassett