NOT TOO SHABBY FOR 11 ROOS
THE Socceroos were motivated by a lack of respect shown towards them as Australia’s hopes of a fourth successive World Cup appearance remained alive and kicking with 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 surface, the Socceroos more than held their own in their scoreless draw against Honduras in San Pedro Sula.
While they could not find a valuable away goal, the Socceroos return to Sydney for Wednesday night’s second leg of the World Cup qualifying playoff confident in their ability to win and secure a spot at Russia 2018.
Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou lamented Australia’s failure to land the killer blow.
But he otherwise could not fault his team’s display after the Australians produced the fighting performance required following Honduran coach Jorge Luis Pinto’s pre-match warning to be ready for “war”.
Pinto’s salvo came after the Hondurans had objected to their nation being degraded and ridiculed in Australia.
Postecoglou again apologised for that, but he also took aim at what he thought was a local campaign to poke fun at the Socceroos, including the front page of a newspaper on the day of the game that described Australia as “11 kangaroos”.
“There was some comments from our team coming from the other side that were disrespectful as well,” he said.
“We had two players (Aaron Mooy and Mat Ryan) who play in the Premier League there, we’ve got players who play in first divisions in Europe and all I heard was that we had a simple game plan and we don’t have any stars.
“That was our motivation. We do our talking when the game comes.”
Despite the lure of a vital away goal, Postecoglou elected against using the ace up his sleeve in Tim Cahill, who watched the entire match from the bench a week after injuring his ankle in the A-League.
“In terms of Timmy, he was fine, but I just didn’t think the game suited him,” Postecoglou said. “Looking at the pitch, I didn’t want to risk him unless we had to.
“Tim and Jimmy Troisi, we were only going to use them if required, and I thought we were quite comfortable, so we saved them for the second game.”
Postecoglou made a whopping eight changes to the side that started in last month’s successful second-leg playoff clash against Syria.
In came defender Bailey Wright, wing-backs Aziz Be- hich and Josh Risdon, midfielders Mile Jedinak, Massimo Luongo, Aaron Mooy and Jackson Irvine, and striker Tomi Juric.
Out went Cahill, Troisi, suspended pair Mark Milligan and Mathew Leckie, injured duo Robbie Kruse and Brad Smith, midfielder Tom Rogic and defender Milos Degenek.
Luongo and returning skipper Jedinak were among Australia’s best on a night where a host of players stood tall for their nation.
There was drama in the 16th minute when advancing Honduras goalkeeper Donis Escob- er knocked over Socceroos defender Wright.
Referee Daniele Orsato pointed to the penalty spot but his assistant put his flag up.
The pair then consulted, with Orsato changing his mind and awarding Honduras what was thought to be a free-kick for off-side.
But Postecoglou was left scratching his head when Orsato told him a goal kick had been awarded.
The Socceroos continued to attack, with Juric having the best chance of the game in the 34th minute after getting behind the Honduran defence.
But with only Escober to beat, Juric dragged his shot wide.
While the ball bobbled on the bumpy surface as Juric was about to shoot, he still should have been able to hit the target at the very least.
“It terms of chances it wasn’t just Tomi Juric’s chances,” Postecoglou said.
“We had some good opportunities to put them away.
“Tomi Juric again put in an enormous shift.
“He works really hard for us ... overall I thought his performance was good.”
EXTRA SPICE: Jackson Irvine being fouled; (right) Aziz Behich shows his frustration; and (opposite page from top) Massimo Luongo is cut down by Emilio Izaguirre, the Honduras fans make their presence felt, and Tomi Juric dribbles past Henry Figueroa. Pictures: AP, AFP, Getty Images