An­other step in long­est jour­ney

The Observer - - SPORT | WORLD CUP FOOTBALL - — Matt Wind­ley

IT WILL have been the long­est path any na­tion has ever taken to the World Cup.

And Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou has im­plored his road war­riors not to let the past 29 months of hard work go to waste as they pre­pare to meet their World Cup destiny at ANZ Sta­dium tonight.

Postecoglou has de­clared his en­tire squad fit and avail­able to start in the sec­ond leg of its in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal play-off against Hon­duras, which in­cludes star for­ward Tim Cahill and key winger Rob­bie Kruse.

Af­ter 32 years of heart­break be­fore its ap­pear­ance at Ger­many 2006, Aus­tralia has made three con­sec­u­tive World Cups for the first time.

Suc­cess against the Cen­tral Amer­i­cans tonight will make that four on the bounce, af­ter an ar­du­ous 21-game cam­paign that started with a 2-1 win in Bishkek against Kyr­gyzs­tan on June 16, 2015 – 884 days ago.

And while he said fail­ure to make it to Rus­sia would not be a fa­tal blow for the sport, Postecoglou said the re­wards on of­fer for suc­cess were huge.

“It’s very im­por­tant be­cause you want to be in the big­gest tour­na­ment in the world,” Postecoglou said.

“It’s a re­ward for the whole or­gan­i­sa­tion – the play­ers and the staff – for all the hard work they’ve been through.

“This has been the long­est World Cup cam­paign taken on by any na­tion both in the amount of games and kilo­me­tres trav­elled. You don’t want all of that to mean noth­ing.

“For the game, it’s al­ways im­por­tant that you’re there when the World Cup is played.

“We saw Italy miss out and you re­alise the im­pact that has.”

The hosts will stride on to the Home­bush ground backed by a for­mi­da­ble home record that has seen it lose just one of its last 28 com­pet­i­tive games on Aus­tralian soil – a loss to South Korea in Bris­bane in the group stage of the 2015 Asian Cup.

Changes are ex­pected tonight, with fresh legs to be im­ple­mented.

Mark Mil­li­gan and Mathew Leckie, sus­pended for the first leg, are among those ex­pected to come in, while Tom Rogic only played a cameo role in Hon­duras and is also fresh.

And while Postecoglou was keep­ing his se­lec­tion cards close to his chest, he was adamant Cahill – who hurt his an­kle play­ing for Mel­bourne City 12 days ago – was fit and ready to go from the start.

PHOTO: BREN­DAN ES­POS­ITO/AAP

READY TO GO: Tim Cahill has shaken off his an­kle in­jury and is right for the Socceroos’ World Cup qual­i­fier with Hon­duras.

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