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.

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