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 time on a long, circuitous route and given their supporters hell through the process, but their objective has been completed. They made it.
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 failure that added yet more air miles and another four games to their circuitous route to Russia. But Jedinak’s 53rd minute free-kick and two coolly-converted penalties finally, memorably, secured his side’s passage to Russia on a momentous day in the nation’s history.
Yet with the score just 1-0, and given the vagaries of the away goals rule, the game still rested on a knife edge and Australia needed a second. It came from Jedinak with 18 minutes remaining after Acosta was adjudged to have handled in the area, perhaps unjustly. With the pressure on, the skipper made light on any nerves he may have been suffering and slotted home.
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 gave way to the beginnings of frustration as the visitors attempted, at times successfully, to take the sting out of the Socceroos early fervour.
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 word there were four. Tim Cahill’s ability to change a game in a snap of his neck muscles was backed from the start, while Mark Milligan and Mathew Leckie returned from suspension. Tom Rogic, who began on the bench in San Pedro Sula, also came in.
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 show 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.