Amidst euphoric scenes at Sydney’s AANZ stadium on Wednesday evening, Socceroos players, coaching staff, and fans embraced and celebrated the safe passage of their country to the 2018 Russian World Cup.
Australia’s 3-1 victory over a stubborn Honduras was the culmination of a marathon qualifying route involving 22 games, and brought with it a sense of relief, pride and in some sense a vindication of the way the team have played and the preparation that went into getting there.
When the excitement dies down and the match against Honduras is watched again in the cold light of day, Australians may light a candle to the soccer gods that things eventually went their way in the crucial deciding game.
After a nervous first half in which the visitors succeeded in slowing the Australians down and restricting them to just one clear chance on goal, the Socceroos broke through the stubborn Honduran resistance when Tom Rogic embarked on a long run into the Honduran defence stopped only by a foul on the edge of the box. The resultant free kick taken by skipper Mile Jedinak took a wicked deflection off a Honduran defender past his keeper and into the net. It was just the sort of break Australia needed. Twenty minutes later, the Socceroos doubled their lead. Again things went their way, this time after the eagle-eyed Argentinian referee spotted a handball by Honduran midfielder Bryan Acosta. It was missed by the Socceroos players and had the offense not taken place so close to the ref, it might have been missed altogether. Captain Jedinak made no mistake from the spot kick.
By now the Socceroos sensed further goals against a tiring opponent whose resistance was waning. Certainly when a Leckie pass over the top picked out Robbie Kruse’s run into the box, all that the Honduran defender could do to prevent the goal was to foul Kruse and concede another penalty which Jedinak dispatched for his third goal of the match. Honduras scored a late consolation at the death when forward Albert Elis scrambled home a corner.
After the match, Australian coach Ange Postecoglou said of qualifying for Russia, “It’s a fantastic achievement and we shouldn’t take it for granted, and we should appreciated that come June next year, there’ll be some very strong footballing nations who are going to be watching us, while they’re on holidays.”
On being asked about whether he’ll go to Russia as coach of the Socceroos, Postecoglou replied “I’m going to enjoy tonight. I owe it to myself, I owe it to my wife, my kids,” Postecoglou said.
“I’m pretty thick-skinned but they’ve had to endure a lot.
“I’ll sit down with the powers-that-be over the next few days and we’ll discuss everything, bring it to a head and make a decision.”
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, these last four years. Going to a World Cup (in 2014) with really a rookie squad and knowing we had to win the Asian Cup (in 2015),” he said.
“Coaching your own country has its advantages but the one disadvantage is if things go wrong there’s nowhere to hide.
“I’ve been coaching for 21 years, mate. I won my first championship when I was 31 years old.
“And you know what? I can coach for another 20 years and I’ll always be an outsider in Australian football. I don’t have the glittering Socceroos career you need, but that’s fine. I wear that as a badge of honour.
“The more that comes my way the more determined and resilient I am to keep going own my own path. It’s worked well for me.
“I’ve had a hell of a lot of support from players, coaches, and the general sporting public.
“There’s not a day goes by when it doesn’t happen. Maybe I just see the nice ones.
“I told the players we’re not going to take a backward step. We’re going to be bold and ambitious and with that will come some scrutiny.
“It’s a lot easier to take the comfortable road. It could have been convenient for me to say it’s a young group and we’ve got to be patient but all along I’ve pushed and pushed and pushed.
“They’ve embraced it. We’ve played 22 games of World Cup qualifying and lost two.”