The Socceroos are halfway to Russia

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By , Mike Tuckerman is a Roar Expert

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    The Socceroos have only themselves to blame if they fail to beat an extremely limited Honduras in front of a sell-out crowd at ANZ Stadium to reach the World Cup in Russia.

    Only one team looked like they couldn’t handle the pressure at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, and it was Honduras.

    It became immediately apparent that playing passing football on an absolute sponge of a pitch in San Pedro Sula would prove impossible, but the Australian back three – or is it a back five, Ange? – easily dealt with the long diagonal balls chipped into the corners from Honduras’ attack.

    And the Socceroos could have taken the lead when referee Daniele Orsato clearly awarded a penalty just before the 20-minute mark, only for the decision to be inexplicably overturned.

    We can argue all we like about the merits of awarding a spot-kick, but the letter of the law is that if a goalkeeper ploughs through the back of an attacking player, it’s a penalty.

    You rarely see them given, so it was a surprise when Orsato pointed to the spot – but it was even more of a surprise when the decision was suddenly overturned for no discernible reason.

    If it was ruled out for offside then it was a shocking decision, because one of the Hondurans – it was hard to catch who – was playing all of the Australians onside.

    Even allowing for another baffling refereeing decision at international level, the Socceroos still should have seen off the Hondurans comfortably in a game that ultimately finished scoreless.

    If Tomi Juric had his time again, he would surely have taken another touch when he charged through one on one with Honduras goalkeeper Donis Escober.

    The ball may have taken a horrible bobble on an absolute cow paddock of a pitch, but in truth Juric largely butchered his big moment.

    He later headed an effort straight at Escober when it looked easier to put it in either corner, and the Socceroos will hope that such key moments in the tie don’t come back to haunt them.

    They shouldn’t though, because Australia mostly bossed Honduras on their home turf – the difficult conditions notwithstanding.

    Massimo Luongo took the initiative more than once, driving towards the heart of the Honduras defence instead of passing responsibility off to a teammate in a wide area, and he was almost rewarded early on when Escober scooped Luongo’s low drive wide.

    He also cut the ball back just after the hour mark, only to somehow dissect two Australian teammates waiting to tap the ball in.

    Aziz Behich was another noteworthy contributor, while the return of skipper Mile Jedinak gave the Socceroos some much-needed steel in midfield.

    But having failed to score an all-important away goal in San Pedro Sula, the trick now is to avoid getting hit on the counter-attack in front of a packed ANZ Stadium in Homebush.

    Mat Ryan was really only troubled once by substitute Carlo Costly at the Metropolitano, but the Socceroos can ill-afford any moments of complacency when it all comes down to a do-or-die final leg.

    And it’s probably about time the Socceroos demonstrated some self-belief in front of their own fans, after they ventured to the great unknown of Honduras and handled the away leg with aplomb.

    For all the talk of hostile atmospheres, the Socceroos never looked unduly troubled in the heat and humidity of northern Honduras.

    Instead, it should be 80,000 fans in Sydney who help get the Socceroos over the line, and having done it once before against Uruguay in 2005, we know exactly what it takes to book a ticket to Russia.

    The Socceroos are halfway there – even if the lack of an away goal could spell trouble in the return leg.

    If there’s nothing to fear but fear itself, then a measured performance in San Pedro Sula suggests the Socceroos have nothing to fear at all.

    Mike Tuckerman
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.