Socceroos vs Honduras preview with bonus Jackson Irvine interview

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    As the Socceroos squad assembles in San Pedro Sula ahead of the first leg on Friday (Saturday 9am AEDT in Australia), the unknown quantity of our opponents leaves us feeling nervous.

    Key stats
    • This is the first meeting between the sides.
    • Honduran home stadium Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano has a capacity of 40,000 and has a running track around the pitch.
    • Weather forecast for Friday is 28 degrees and raining in Honduras.
    • Australia have only one clean sheet in 12 months.
    • Socceroos are undefeated in the last 16 World Cup qualification games when Mile Jedinak has been in the side (11 wins and five draws).
    • Australia are ranked 43, while Honduras have a ranking of 69.

    My prediction
    Leg 1 – Draw 1-1
    Leg 2 – Australia 2-0

    Having Jedinak back is a huge boost, they have lacked his leadership and qualities at both ends. He is the link and the heart of the midfield and will allow Aaron Mooy to play higher up the park.

    Mile Jedinak vs Japan

    (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill, FILE)

    How many minutes we get out of the skipper will be crucial as he has only just returned for Aston Villa. Massimo Luongo or James Jeggo could play some important time in Leg 1, while we are more safely covered by Mark Milligan’s return in Leg 2.

    In Leg 1, we will see a more defensive Socceroos within the controversial 3-4-3, with wingbacks – likely Josh Risdon and Aziz Behich – unlikely to play as attacking as Robbie Kruse and Mathew Leckie have in recent times.

    An away goal is crucial and could be the deciding factor in the tie. It is time for the likes of Tom Rogic and Tomi Juric to step up at this level.

    A huge advantage for Australia is the FFA spending $250,000 on a chartered flight only two hours after the first-leg match. Honduras will fly commercial, meaning the Socceroos will arrive home a full 24 hours back before their rivals.

    Our squad depth could also see four or five changes from the first leg, with the likely inclusion of Tim Cahill, Leckie, Kruse, Milligan and even possibly Bailey Wright.

    Look for the Socceroos to play very attacking and drain the legs of Honduras.

    Honduras are a dangerous proposition because we don’t know a lot about them.

    Their form has been pretty good, with a home 3-2 win over Mexico, away 1-1 draw with Costa Rica, home 1-1 draw with the USA and away win 2-1 against Trinidad and Tobago from their last four starts.

    Tomas Rogic congratulated by team generic football

    (AAP Image/Paul Miller)

    They should enjoy a vocal home crowd in a humid environment they are more accustomed to than the Socceroos, whose majority of starters play across Europe’s cooler climate.

    I was joined on the Talking with TK podcast by Socceroos midfielder Jackson Irvine to preview the qualifiers. Listen to the entire interview here or read the transcript below.

    TK – Looking ahead to the game against Honduras, as soon as you were selected in the squad was there information being passed down?

    JI – We knew it was going to be one of three teams, Honduras, Panama or USA if we ended up in the playoff. We started to do our reading up on each team and doing our basic homework.

    TK – Have you played at any level in Central or Middle America?

    JI – No I’ve never played in Middle or South America, I’ve played against clubs in Mexico but never over there at the international level. We played against Colombia in the under 20 World Cup, but never been to that side of world.

    TK – What are you expecting because in England it’s very cold, back here in Australia it’s been mild (mid 20’s) then Honduras high 20s, early 30s?

    JI – Mid 20s? That’s a roasting for me mate, anything over 20 is a dream. I haven’t seen over 20 in six years. Conditions are something we have to deal with playing in Asia. Anyone who saw our games in the UAE or Saudi Arabia will know we have played at higher heat levels than what is coming.

    The humidity will be a factor as it was in Malaysia but have played in the UAE and Saudi Arabia in 45 degrees heat that was almost impossible, but we still managed to get two results and we have shown we are capable of dealing with tough conditions.

    TK – Seeing what Ange Postecoglou did in the games against Syria, from the first to the second leg he made plenty of changes to the starting line-up. Are you expecting something similar?

    JI – It was even the same between the Japan and Thailand games; you got a squad of players. It’s good to know you can use and trust a number of those players and it’s good to know you can trust and use a number of players and that’s not a coincidence, it’s something we have built over the last year or two.

    It’s not 11 players in this squad, it’s 30 and we got a number of players that a capable of stepping in and doing a job because the travel and games are going to extremely tough. Everyone’s going to be required in one sense or another.

    TK – Jackson, you’re 24, is it pretty surreal you when you see someone like Tim Cahill continue to produce at 37, is it surreal playing with him now?

    JI – It’s pretty crazy. It’s one of those things, the first time a younger player comes into the squad you do get a little starry-eyed, I was at that game against Uruguay when we qualified for our first World Cup in 32 years, I was 12, now I’m on the pitch with Tim Cahill 12 years later playing alongside him.

    Tim Cahill happy

    (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

    The man’s incredible, the condition he keeps himself in, he’s an absolute model professional and to see him play 120 minutes and score two goals at international level at 37. He’s still the one that teams fear and the name teams won’t want coming out against them.

    He’s vital to have among the squad in terms of experience, that character and charisma he brings among all the players.

    TK – What about Mile Jedinak, his been missing for a while and his been captain for such a long time, what does it mean to have him back in the fold?

    JI – It will be huge as well. Mile is a natural leader and he is the leader of the group. It’s not just his presence off the field but on it.

    When you see him out there with you, he’s such a big guy, he’s very vocal, he’s the first Australian to lift a major trophy and he’s going to be vital.

    TK – Given his qualities in the defensive mould, seeing we are still struggling with the 3-4-3 system and conceding goals, do you think his a big plus to cover the back three as well?

    JI – Yeah in a sense, to be honest, you say we have been struggling. It’s more individual mistakes that led to the goals we have conceding and some decisions that have not gone our way.

    I think structurally not much as gone wrong. Any experience with the players coming in will help contribute and I’m sure Mile will play a big part in the next two games.

    TK – Is the World Cup the pinnacle for a footballer?

    JI – Definitely at an international level. It’s something you dream about as a kid. I was fortunate enough to be in Germany at 13, I went to the Japan and Brazil games, watching Australia play.

    It’s part of the reason to try and make it as a player. To play at that level and test yourself in the biggest stage in the world is so exciting and we are going to give our absolute all to make sure we book our spot for a fourth consecutive World Cup.

    TK – Jackson, what is the biggest thing about playing international football – is it pride or not just playing and being paid?

    JI – Yeah that all means nothing when you’re out there and put on your shirt, playing in front of your family, friends and country.

    It’s the most rewarding thing; you never expect to be chosen in the squad so you have to cherish it. You’re not sure how many chances you will get to represent and do what you wanted to do since you were a kid.

    TK – With the news that Ange Postecoglou might be leaving before the World Cup where did you hear about it?

    JI – Just the same as everyone else, it made its way into the media and has become a hot topic of conversation. We are more concentrating on the football side of things and the things that we can control, what happens after this will happen, we have to concentrate on the immediate, he’s still very much the boss and will be with us for these two games.

    We have to look at the short term over the next ten days and whatever happens in the future will take care of itself.