Preview: Caltex Socceroos vs Honduras
Bishkek to Bangkok; Amman to Adelaide; Saitama to Sydney; Melaka to Melbourne: Australia’s epic 2018 World Cup qualification path reaches its 22nd - and campaign defining - final match on Wednesday night.
It’s winner takes all when the Socceroos face Honduras in their second leg intercontinental qualifier playoff in Sydney tomorrow night (Wednesday, Nov 15).
Holding, on paper at least, an advantage of sorts having left San Pedro Sula with a 0-0 draw last Saturday in the first leg, Australia are rightly feeling confident about the second leg.
Though, of course, nothing in football is ever that straightforward, is it? Especially when so much is at stake (just ask Socceroo fans and players who went through the Iran 1997 playoff debacle at the MCG).
Expect another night of edge-of-the-seat drama to rival 12 years ago when the Australians famously qualified for their first World Cup in 32 years.
STORY OF THE FIRST LEG
Australia produced one of their finest away performances of the qualification campaign in San Pedro Sula.
While a winner would have been the icing on a mature display, Ange Postecoglou will be encouraged by his side’s level of control in testing conditions.
Honduras did provide one late scare through veteran Carlo Costly, but it was a rare moment of concern for the Socceroos in an otherwise impressive effort.
CURRENT WORLD RANKINGS
Australia will be boosted by the availability of classy central midfielder Mark Milligan, who was suspended for the first leg, and the potential return of Mat Leckie and Robbie Kruse.
But it’s the freshness of those who travelled to Central America that may give the home side the biggest advantage.
Postecoglou’s men received valuable treatment on a chartered flight home and utilised world-leading recovery techniques as they arrived almost 24 hours earlier than their opponents.
Honduras arrived on Monday and trained for the first time at Stadium Australia later in the day.
A lone goal for either team would be enough to decide this finely-poised tie, ensuring there will be nothing comfortable about Wednesday night.
An early goal to Honduras and this tie could turn in an instant. Likewise, if the Socceroos ram home their advantage early, Honduras will have a mountain to climb.
But the fact Australia have only lost one World Cup qualifier on home soil since 1981 inspires confidence, as does the first leg performance and the forever strong memories of 2005.
All that remains is to go out and get a result worthy of being at Russia 2018.
A huge crowd on the night, and those watching on across Australia and in the early hours back in Honduras, are set for a night of pure joy or abject misery.
It truly is, winner takes all.