By the middle of next week, Australia will know whether or not the Socceroos have qualified for the 2018 World Cup Finals in Russia. Its destiny rests squarely on the outcome of the final two legged play-off against CONCACAF nation Honduras. It will be the first ever meeting between the two nations.
Australia faces an unfamiliar opponent, so the question is who are the players of Los Catrachos, as Hondurans are known, and who is their coach?
Age Postecoglou’s team faces a Honduran team coached by a wily experienced, 64 year old Columbian born coach Jorge Luis Pinto.
Pinto’s greatest success at international level came during the last World Cup Finals in Brazil when he coached Costa Rica to the quarterfinals, after finishing top of the Group of Death with wins against Uruguay and Italy and a scoreless draw against England. Along the way to the quarterfinals, Honduras knocked out Greece in a Rd of 16 penalty shootout, before being themselves knocked out by the Netherlands on penalties in the quarter finals after a scoreless draw.
Pinto’s feats with Costa Rica at Brazil 2014 earned him the honour of CONCACAF’S 2014 coach of the year. Following the successful 2014 World Cup campaign, Honduras appointed him the national coach. Under his leadership, Honduras finished its CONCACAF qualifying matches strongly to clinch the final play-off against Australia. Honduras is undefeated in its last four matches ending with an impressive 3-2 home win over Group winners Mexico. Some have attributed their strong performances of late to a change of formation with Pinto switching to a 4-4-2 system, having previously experimented with 5-4-1, 4-3-3 and 5-3-2.
Like the Socceroos, the Hondurans will go into the first leg missing some players and other players under injury clouds. Tall central striker Eddie Hernandez who has been favoured of late), was a late addition to the squad after originally being ruled out with a fractured cheekbone. If he doesn’t recover sufficiently, Pinto may deploy Barcelona ” B” player Anthony Lozano up front.
Honduras have attacking threats out wide through Alberth Ellis and his team-mate at MLS club Houston Dynamo, Romell Quioto, whilst in midfield Alexander Lopez will play the number 10 role just in behind the strikers.
Joining Lopez in midfield could be Bryan Acosta who plays for Spanish second division team Tenerife, and Alfredo Meijia who plays for Greek Super League club Xanthi.
First choice keeper is the experienced Donis Escobar joined by fullbacks Izaguirre and Beckeles. None of these players are under 30 and along with 34 year old skipper and central defender Maynor Figueroa ( Suspended for first leg) they conceded the most number of goals during the CONCACAF qualifiers.
The Socceroos may be looking to exploit any aged legs with pace although this will be difficult in the extreme humidity expected for the first leg. It will be interesting to see whether coach Postecoglou adopts a more conservative approach to suit the conditions in what is expected to be a very tough away encounter against Los Catrachos.