Preview: Honduras versus Caltex Socceroos
Australia have had crunch clashes and make-or-break matches in World Cup qualification – now it’s winner takes all. And it all kicks off on Saturday morning (AEDT).
Honduras stand in the way of the Caltex Socceroos for a place at the next World Cup, with the battle commencing in San Pedro Sula at the Stadio Olimpico Metropolitano in the first leg.
THE STORY SO FAR
Twelve years after Uruguay, the Caltex Socceroos find themselves back in an intercontinental play-off after finishing third in their AFC World Cup qualifying group.
Despite just one defeat in 10 group matches, Australia missed out on automatic qualification by the slimmest of margins on goal difference to Saudi Arabia.
They then had to play a two-legged tie against Syria last month, overcoming the fellow AFC nation 3-2 on aggregate.
Honduras booked their spot in this round after finishing fourth in CONCACAF qualifying.
And they got there on a dramatic final day of matches, beating table-toppers Mexico 3-2 to leapfrog USA on the ladder.
The Central Americans are aiming to qualify for a third consecutive FIFA World Cup, Australia for their part a fourth (and fifth overall).
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The major focus has centred around talismanic striker Tim Cahill.
There were fears Australia’s greatest-ever scorer would miss the first leg after he suffered an ankle injury playing for Melbourne City in the Hyundai A-League.
But Cahill, 37, has travelled to Honduras with the squad. How much game-time he gets remains to be seen but his presence is a huge boost.
As is the return of skipper and influential defensive midfielder Mile Jedinak.
The bearded midfielder missed the games against Syria through injury but is set to play a key role in this first leg after two substitute appearances for his English club Aston Villa recently.
That said, there are three key players that have gone straight to Sydney and won’t feature on Saturday morning (AEDT).
Midfielder Mark Milligan and Mathew Leckie - both regulars and very important cogs in the game plan - are both serving one-game bans due to an accumulation of yellow cards.
Winger Robbie Kruse also didn’t make the trip to Central America as he looks to overcome a knee injury in time for the second leg.
Having come through a similar sudden-death tie against Syria last month, the Caltex Socceroos know what to expect over the next two games.
While Australia have the benefit of the return leg at home in Sydney next week, the last thing they will want is to be chasing a few goals, even with their phenomenal record at home.
It makes the result in San Pedro Sula so much more crucial for both nations.
And while much has been made of the extreme humidity in San Pedro Sula – predicted to be around 93% with rain expected and 27 degrees on Friday (Sat AEDT) for kick off – the Australians have had plenty of experience in such conditions after qualifiers in the heat of Abu Dhabi, Melaka and Riyadh.
You can be sure Honduras will try to benefit from what will be a hostile atmosphere inside the Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano.
For the Australians, they are battle hardened after a grueling two-phase qualification campaign and will know whatever happens in Honduras, they’ll have the advantage of a home leg at fortress Stadium Australia five days later when the fate of both nations will be decided.