SOC­CER

It’s been a long slog as Aussies size up Hon­duras ob­sta­cle

Daily Dispatch - - Racing -

AUS­TRALIA have criss­crossed the globe for more than two years in their quest for a World Cup berth and, while that path has not al­ways run smooth, they will be con­fi­dent of a tri­umphant con­clu­sion today.

A cam­paign that be­gan in Kyr­gyzs­tan in June 2015 will come to an end today in match num­ber 22 when they face Hon­duras in the sec­ond leg of the in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal play­off hav­ing se­cured a 0-0 draw in San Pe­dro Sula last week.

At stake is a place at soc­cer’s top ta­ble for a fourth suc­ces­sive World Cup and an­other huge shot in the arm for a game that has made huge strides in re­cent years but still lags be­hind rugby league and Aus­tralian Rules in pop­u­lar­ity.

Three years ago in Brazil, Aus­tralia en­joyed a cred­itable cam­paign de­spite los­ing all three games in a group that also in­cluded Chile, the Netherlands and Spain.

Of that trio only Spain will be in Rus­sia next year, and with Italy also fail­ing to reach the fi­nals for the first time since 1958, coach Ange Postecoglou is well aware how costly fail­ure to qual­ify could be.

“In terms of the game, it’s al­ways im­por­tant, you want to be there when the World Cup’s played, we saw with Italy miss­ing out this morn­ing, and you re­alise the im­pact that has,” he told re­porters yes­ter­day.

“It doesn’t mean that not qual­i­fy­ing means that the game some­how ceases to ex­ist, it’s more about our con­tin­ued growth.

“We’ve got to be am­bi­tious about in­ter­na­tional foot­ball, both about want­ing to qual­ify and want­ing to do well. Those things can’t hap­pen if you don’t get the job done.”

Mem­o­ries of the 1997 play­off, when Iran came from 2-0 down in the sec­ond leg in Mel­bourne to go through on away goals, will al­ways haunt Aus­tralian fans but Postecoglou is con­fi­dent his play­ers will fin­ish the job against Hon­duras.

“They’re a dan­ger­ous team, but more im­por­tant for us is that we im­pose our­selves on the game,” he added.

“If we dic­tate the game, as we have done in the past, we’re go­ing to be dif­fi­cult to stop.”

Postecoglou said all his play­ers were fit and sug­gested he was likely to bring in some fresh legs with Tim Cahill, who had an an­kle in­jury, Rob­bie Kruse (knee), Mathew Leckie and Mark Mil­li­gan (both sus­pended) now avail­able.

It re­mains un­clear whether Postecoglou will take Aus­tralia to Rus­sia even if they qual­ify and he again de­clined to con­firm or deny that he would be step­ping down af­ter tod match.

There was no dis­guis­ing, though, his de­sire for Aus­tralia’s cam­paign to end in tri­umph in front of more than 70 000 fans at the Olympic Sta­dium.

“The feel­ing within the camp is that we’re ready for a big game to­mor­row night and hope­fully get­ting the job done,” he said. — Reuters

Pic­ture: GETTY IMAGES

A KEEPER’S LAMENT: Gian­luigi Buf­fon of Italy can’t hold back the tears af­ter the na­tional team lost out on a place in the World Cup fol­low­ing their play­off qual­i­fier against Swe­den at San Siro Sta­dium on Mon­day

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