TWELVE years ago we left the Montevideo cauldron confident we had done enough to set ourselves up for World Cup qualification.
The Socceroos of 2017 would be experiencing the same emotions after a very good performance away to Honduras.
In the players’ eyes, Honduras is beatable in Australia, after the Socceroos almost beat them on their home patch.
Vulnerable, too, once travel is factored in.
Ange Postecoglou would be proud of his men, but he would have quickly turned the team’s attention to Wednesday’s second leg.
The focus is on recovery now and this is where the medical and fitness staff earn their money and where those small percentages are multiplied.
You can’t perform miracles in three days and in many ways the game has already been played out because the work is in the preparation. This is where Australia has made huge strides in the past 12 years and where the Socceroos’ extensive travel experience will play a part.
Reflecting on 2005, when we were whisked out of Montevideo on a Qantas charter flight and landed in Sydney hours ahead of the Uruguayans, it makes a massive difference physically and mentally.
Players may be in lockdown but they are still exposed in the media. When we saw images of the Uruguayans come off their flight looking stressed and tired, it gave us such a boost that mentally we had already equalised in Sydney before Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell set me up in the first half.
On the Socceroos’ charter flight, which lands today well ahead of the Hondurans, the players will be rotated through the massage tables and staff will monitor hydration.
The players will reflect on the game’s key moments and their successful operation in good spirits, but experienced heads Mile Jedinak and Tim Cahill will ensure they don’t get too happy with themselves.
If someone had offered me a 0-0 draw in San Pedro Sula pre-game, I would have signed off straight away.
At the final whistle, I would have been disappointed not to win. You can dissect the missed chances, but now you just accept it and look forward to Wednesday knowing you’re in a good position.
In the second leg, scoring will be key but just as vital will be minimising mistakes because a score draw (1-1, 2-2 or 3-3) would advance Honduras.
We are the better team, we have a physical edge and we will score.
As good as the Socceroos were, they still looked vulnerable in that transition period when losing possession.
Being on the offensive on Wednesday night, that could leave us more exposed defensively.
The only way Honduras can capitalise is from Socceroos mistakes — a bad pass, a lost ball in transition and leaving ourselves exposed.
That’s where the presence of Jedinak, my long-time midfield partner, makes a massive difference.
He slots into good positions, organises, leads and intimidates the opposition, which is an important factor.
The charter gives him a better chance of recovering for the second leg despite his lack of game-time for Aston Villa this season.
Aziz Behich was very energetic on the left and one of the few who didn’t look affected by the conditions. You can see he’s playing regularly for his Turkish club.
I personally don’t like too many changes and I believe the rotation has affected the confidence of someone like Massimo Luongo over the past 12-18 months.
Luongo, who starred after taking my starting spot at the 2015 Asian Cup, did well in Honduras, but I would have expected him to play a much bigger role in qualifying.
But it comes down to experience in games like this and Ange has given lots of younger players a go, so enough of
Socceroo Tomi Juric jumps over Honduran defender Henry Figuroa during the first-leg World Cup intercontinental playoff yesterday morning in San Pedro Sula. Below right, goalkeeper Mat Ryan typifies the Australians’ determination in front of a hostile crowd. The Socceroos can clinch their place at Russia 2018 in the second leg in Sydney on Wednesday night. Pictures: AP, AFP