Valiant Socceroos in box seat after draw
THE Socceroos’ hopes of a fourth successive World Cup appearance are alive and kicking after a gutsy display in the intimidating atmosphere of the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano.
Despite 40,000 fans baying for their blood in a game played in muggy conditions and on a terrible playing surface, Australia more than held its own in a 0-0 draw against Honduras.
While they couldn’t find a valuable away goal, the Socceroos return to Sydney for Wednesday night’s second leg of the World Cup qualifying play-off confident in their ability to win and secure a spot at Russia 2018.
The Honduran supporters did their best to lift the hosts, but the Socceroos gave as good as they got with the fighting performance that was required after Honduran coach Jorge Luis Pinto warned the Australians pre-match to be ready to go to “war”.
Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou elected against using the ace up his sleeve in Tim Cahill, who watched the entire match from the bench.
It suggested that Cahill had not fully recovered from his ankle injury or that Postecoglou was more than happy with the stalemate and would rather save the Socceroos stalwart for the second leg.
Postecoglou made a whopping eight changes to the side that started in last month’s successful second-leg play-off clash against Syria.
In came defender Bailey Wright, wing-backs Aziz Behich and Josh Risdon, midfielders Mile Jedinak, Massimo Luongo, Aaron Mooy and Jackson Irvine, and striker Tomi Juric.
Out went Cahill, suspended pair Mark Milligan and Mathew Leckie, injured duo Robbie Kruse and Brad Smith, midfielders Tom Rogic and James Trois, and defender Milos Degenek.
Luongo and returning skipper Jedinak were among Australia’s best on a night when a host of players stood tall for their nation.
Australia’s first chance came in the 11th minute when Luongo worked his way into the Honduras penalty area before unleashing a shot that was well saved by Honduras goalkeeper Donis Escober.
There was drama in the 16th minute when an advancing Escober knocked over Socceroos defender Bailey Wright. Referee Daniele Orsato pointed to the penalty spot, but his assistant put his flag up for offside.
The pair then consulted, with Orsato changing his mind and awarding Honduras the free-kick. The Socceroos continued to attack, with Irvine volleying over the bar in the 29th minute after being picked out by Behich.
Five minutes later Juric had the best chance of the half after getting behind the Honduran defence. But with only Escober to beat, Juric dragged his shot wide after the ball bobbled on the bumpy surface as he was about to shoot.
Honduras had a late chance through substitute Carlos Costly, but Mat Ryan was up to the task of tipping the shot over the crossbar. Had Australia’s two best chances and if he checked his run from a second half cross he would’ve had a tap in.
Came on in the 74th minute but couldn’t quite get himself into the game as he struggled to come to grips with the pitch. Likely to start in the second leg. The Japan-based defender replaced Risdon on 84 minutes and had very little to do. Came on for Juric in the 89th minute but the Socceroos couldn’t utilise his pace in those dying minutes.
FOOT-RACE: Socceroos midfielder Jackson Irvine, left, gets past Honduras’ Henry Figueroa in their World Cup qualifier in San Pedro Sula yesterday.