Time to get the job done, Socceroos
The temptation now is to see the job as almost done.
The temptation now is to regard the second leg of ‘s World Cup qualifier against Honduras as almost a formality after the Socceroos secured a 0-0 draw in San Pedro Sula.
After all, the stars seem to be aligning.
The Socceroos dominated their away leg against the Central Americans, controlled the game, spurned several good chances and should really be coming back to Sydney at least one, and probably two, goals to the good. With any luck at all an automatic place at the finals next year in Russia would be all but sealed.
, thanks to greater financial strength, can afford to charter a plane and will fly directly to after a brief stopover in Hawaii.
Ange Postecoglou and his team will arrive Sydney some 24 hours before the Hondurans, who must now undertake a gruelling journey via Los Angeles on scheduled airlines, with some players travelling in economy class.
But succumbing to temptation, no matter how alluring that may be, could be fateful.
At best, it is disrespectful to opponents who have little to lose and everything to gain, at worst it would be hubris of the sort that ill befits any team when the scores are still level, even if they look to have all the advantages on their side.
Twenty years ago looked to have done a similar job, when they travelled to Tehran and returned from the Iranian capital with a 1-1 draw thanks to a precious Harry Kewell away goal.
It looked like a lay down misere for Terry Venables’ team, especially when they went 2-0 up in the second leg; nobody foresaw the tenacious Iranians battling back and scoring twice in the last 15 minutes to draw 2-2 and progress to France in 1998 on the away goals rule.
These days, are smarter, wiser, and better prepared than 20 years ago, even if they had the cream of the golden generation who were about to reach their prime as players.
And this Honduran team, on the evidence of the 90 minutes of the first leg, is nowhere near the quality of the Iranian side that faced on that day at the MCG.
They looked, in fact, very poor for a team that had reached this far in the World Cup qualifying race: it beggars belief, on that performance, that a nation like the US, with all their money, resources and players, finished behind them in the qualifying group.
Still, judging them only on the evidence of Saturday morning’s game might be a mistake – after all, they had only lost once at home during the Central American qualifying competition and had beaten good teams like Mexico along the way.
But if that effort against was the best they can muster, then the Socceroos, while not quite starting at Winx-type odds, will be very short priced favourites to make it to a World Cup for the fourth time in succession.
Honduras – who might now be known as the Cabbage Patch Kids of the world game thanks to the cow paddock of a pitch they served up – offered little going forward and posed few threats.
If teams prepare pitches and playing surfaces to benefit them and discomfort opponents it certainly didn’t work this time.
The Socceroos have had to get used to playing on poor surfaces and in inhospitably warm environments in Asia over the past dozen or more years, and all that experience showed through as they took control of the game.
Not only were the Hondurans ineffective and unadventurous, they were given little chance to show anything by an n team pumped and primed by coach Ange Postecoglou to take this game by the scruff of the neck.
were faster, stronger and physically better. They were able to take control of the midfield and impose themselves on opponents who had few answers to the press of the Socceroos and the sheer tenacity and aggression they displayed.
But, once again, finishing off all their good work was the problem. n fans now have to hope that it won’t, through a twist of fate, prove to be their Achilles heel in the game that matters most on Wednesday evening.
This has been a recurring theme for in this qualifying period, and the failure to score an away goal was the one blemish on what was an excellent performance by a team set up to take the game to their hosts.
Mile Jedinak once again proved what a calm and steadying influence he is for this team and, in retrospective, how much he was missed during the crucial games in the latter stages of the qualifying process.
should now go on and do the job in Sydney with the minimum of fuss.
They will fly back on their own plane which will effectively be a luxury recovery chamber complete with physios, massage facilities and all the latest sports science equipment to ensure they land in the best shape possible.
While they will undoubtedly be feeling tired, so will their opponents, who will have none of those advantages.
In addition Matthew Leckie and Mark Milligan, both suspended from this first leg, will be available, while Robbie Kruse is also another one who could come back from injury to play a role.
Tom Rogic will in all likelihood be unleashed on the Hondurans in the second leg and he should prove pivotal, while Tim Cahill should be fully recovered from the ankle injury which put him in doubt.
The Socceroos will almost certainly have the bulk of possession and his quick feet and close control should be essential to unlock what is likely to be a massed Honduran defence.
The Central Americans, on what we saw on Saturday, are there for the taking.
The Socceroos will be buzzing. Now is the time to go out and finish the job: expects them to.