Captains match-winning showing procures Australias passage to next years World Cup finals in Russia
The day ended in the same manner it had started in Australia– with a resounding, deafening “yes”. The thunder from the ANZ Stadium crowd as captain Mile Jedinak three times received the back of the net in an ultimately comfy 3-1 win over Honduras matched those around the country when the nation’s marriage equality survey result was announced earlier on Wednesday.
The Socceroos are going to next year’s World Cup in Russia, their fourth successive finals, after ending a mammoth qualifying campaign that considered Ange Postecoglou’s side play 22 games over 884 days and travel more than 250,000 kilometres to 22 countries. This campaign has been nothing if not an epic journey.
They didn’t made it easy for themselves and will rue the missed opportunity to qualify automatically at the end of the group stage, a failing that added yet more air miles and another four games to their circuitous route to Russia. But Jedinak’s 53 rd minute free-kick and two coolly-converted penalties eventually, memorably, secured his side’s passageway to Russia on a momentous day in the nation’s history.
The game was the epitome of a must-win match , not just to its implementation of qualification but also in terms of the longer-term ramifications for football in Australia. Given the destabilising consequence recent political infighting among the domestic game’s stakeholders has already had, defeat and failure to qualify for the World Cup was unthinkable. Then there is the question of cash- the tidy sum of $12.5 m paid out by Fifa for qualification is not to be sniffed at, particularly at a time when FFA need it most.
Yet question mark remain over the future of Postecoglou, and whether he will be in charge once the flight departs for Russia next year. As expected, the coach refused to deflect from the glory of the night and did not corroborate or deny supposition he will leave his post before the finals. That particular storyline will be played out over the next few days, once the hangovers are overcome and the euphoria dies down.
Rarely one to stick to a starting lineup- he has sent out the same side just once during his tenure- Postecoglou promised changes, and true to his term there were four. Tim Cahill’s ability to change a game in a snap of his neck muscles was backed from the beginning, while Mark Milligan and Mathew Leckie returned from suspension. Tom Rogic, who began on the bench in San Pedro Sula, also came in.
Postecoglou had also indicated his side would” go hard” in Sydney and with six players lining up on the halfway line for kick-off, home intentions were clear. But a briskly optimistic opening soon dedicated way to the beginnings of annoyance as the visitors attempted, at times successfully, to take the sting out of the Socceroos early fervour.
Yet Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic, Australia’s most influential players, were able to give indications of their skills. Huddersfield midfielder Mooy’s free-kick on 13 minutes created pulsations in the Honduras box before the ball was parried to security by goalkeeper Donis Escober and the first real chance of the night fell to Rogic, who scuffed his shooting after good work by Cahill at the byline had played in Aziz Behich.
For Honduras, forays into the Australian half were few and far between and it took half an hour for the returning Alberth Elis, the visitors’ most dynamic player who missed out on the first leg through suspension, to prove what he is capable of going forward. Otherwise, as an attacking entity, Honduras were barely existent.
If coach Jorge Luis Pinto’s gameplan was to play for extra-time and the lottery of penalties, it worked- for the first half at least. But with the Socceroos enjoying far more possession, there was a degree of inevitability to the first goal.
Jedinak was the designer as his free-kick took a hefty deflection off Henry Figueroa, on as a substitute and to be later brought back off again, and wrong-footed Escober. There was some embarrassment as to who to award the goal to, but the Aston Villa midfielder was afterward credited.
Cahill, full of running but with little opportunity to showing his nose for goal, did go close soon after the opener ran in. His looping header from nearly the leading edge of the penalty area ricochetted on top of the crossbar.
Yet with the score only 1-0, and given the vagaries of the away objectives rule, the game still rested on a knife edge and Australia needed a second. It came from Jedinak again, with 18 minutes remaining, after Bryan Acosta was adjudged to have handled in the area, perhaps unjustly. With the pressure on, the skipper induced illuminate of any nerves he may have been suffering and slotted home.
He was to repeat the trick on 85 minutes, this time after Robbie Kruse was carried down in the box, to complete his hat-trick and a consummate captain’s performance.
Honduras grabbed a late consolation, through a scrambled effort involving Elis and later credited by Fifa to Maynor Figueroa, but it meant nothing. The day had already been won.
Pre-match logic suggested that if the Socceroos could not beat Honduras at home, they did not deserve to rub shoulders with the world’s best in Russia next year. By extension, this victory fully justifies their place. They might have taken their hour on a long, circuitous route and given their supporters hell through the process, but their objective has been completed. They induced it.
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