Brave Roos earn the right to be confident of qualification

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    The sound billowing out of the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano was frightening. It was the call of battle approaching, a horde swaying to the clangour of the horns of conflict, roaring and jawing, boring through the resolve of their foes.

    There was no true away leg in the last playoff against Syria, with Damascus hardly expected to pay mind to hosting a World Cup qualifier under their current political circumstances. The group stage, a round-robin of sorts, ended at home for the Socceroos; a deflating, fumbling victory over Thailand that feels a rather long time ago now.

    This sort of excursion into partisan enemy territory is something the Roos have not fully experienced in this slog of a qualification campaign, and their hosts’ reputation was, to put it frankly, not for indulging in the beautiful game. The pitch was shaggy and slow, the match time designed to take advantage of the day’s heat and humidity, an oppressive atmosphere compounded by that furious wall of noise. 

    Ange Postecoglou picked a brawny team packed with broad shoulders and powerful motors. Mile Jedinak and Bailey Wright were inserted into the midfield and defence, and Jackson Irvine, the athlete, was preferred over Tom Rogic in attack, an indictment, really, of Rogic’s unwanted tendency to fade from view under duress.

    Massimo Luongo was in midfield, too, as a snappy, active presence, and the two wing-backs, Josh Risdon and Aziz Behich, were to essentially form a back five without the ball. This was the formation we wanted to see away against Japan; a defensive team, and unashamed of it, ready to grit their teeth, flex their muscles and thrash out a clean sheet.

    Immediately it was clear playing on this surface would be like trying to kick a ping-pong ball over lush shag-pile carpet. The turf yielded horribly underfoot, and huge loamy wodges were sent flying after every skirmish, the Somme in San Pedro Sula, a fitting battleground for an ugly affray.

    (AAP Image/Matt Roberts)

    Honduras threatened early, with the Australian centre backs having to clear the ball deep in their own penalty area. Henry Figueroa scythed through Jackson Irvine from behind in midfield, and the crowd roared with approval. A little later, Luongo tottered into the Honduran box and shot, drawing a fine save. The game, bedraggled and lurching, was very open. 

    The first time Mat Ryan attempted to play out from the back, Trent Sainsbury nearly lost possession, stumbling over the ball, feet bogged in the pitch. The sequence ended in a Honduran throw in Australia’s half; this was not the time nor the place for cute passing in the defensive third, with the Hondurans eager to press aggressively.

    The Roos were set up to disrupt the Hondurans passing as well, with Irvine and Luongo clearly tasked with pressing the Honduran defence high up the pitch, Irvine in particular. Wholly unsuited to terrestrial passing, the pitch compelled Australia to launch at least two free kicks into the box, free kicks that would normally have been taken quickly and short. 

    Behich was making a number of potent sojourns down the left, combining with Aaron Mooy, beating his man and crossing. His exclusion in favour of Brad Smith over the last few months has been baffling. Set up by Behich, Irvine spanked a volleyed shot high and wide.

    Mooy’s presence was vital in the Socceroos midfield. Surrounded by so many dynamic runners, it was Mooy’s poise and technique on the ball – expected to function in spite of the conditions – that Australia were relying on. 

    (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

    Tomi Juric wasted a chance after 35 minutes, having wriggled through, clear on goal. A horrid bobble just before striking the ball meant he skewed his shot wide. Ange spun around in the technical area, his face contorted with frustration. Having rattled the Australians early, Honduras were now creating almost nothing in attack, hoping perhaps for a mistake to prey on. Juric’s ended up being the outstanding chance of the half for either team. It was scoreless at the break. 

    Matt Jurman was booked within seconds of the second half commencing. Sainsbury followed him into the book a minute later. The grisly contest began again, with neither team passing freely or coherently. Luongo, so sprightly and encouraging, ran and shot from distance. Luongo then sent through Risdon a minute or so later, and he crossed for Juric.

    The striker’s header was tipped over by keeper Donis Escober. Australia were pushing, cautiously, for a breakthrough. Honduras responded with a stern set piece, a swooping free kick that the Roos’ airborne squadron dealt with.

    The atmosphere swelled when Michaell Chirinos, a minute, quicksilver winger, was brought on as a substitute. Another promising Australian incursion into the Honduran box ended with the ball bobbling across the face of goal, tracing a path exactly between the two Socceroos ready and waiting to tap home. Chirinos then scampered away on the counter but shot wide.

    Missed chances, gaps widening for an obdurate opponent on the counter; was this to be the old, awful story for Australia, the one we’ve seen too often over the past few months? How quickly would the Australian vigour sap away, how ragged would the passing become, as the game creaked past the hour mark?

    A heavy touch from Risdon and a poor pass from Luongo gave some indication, with little movement on the Australian bench. Meanwhile, Honduras had made all three of their changes, with Carlos Costly, a towering striker and national team veteran, the final substitute to enter. Tom Rogic was then brought on for Jackson Irvine. Irvine had put in a Herculean shift, harrying and hassling, but his industry was now replaced by Rogic’s artistry.

    (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

    The Hondurans were now visibly fading, with their attacking scheme almost entirely based on pumping long, hopeful balls out of defence and their defensive approach propped up by frequent fouling. Mooy overhit a free kick, and Jedinak spooned a routine pass over the sideline; the match was degenerating, with the goalless scoreline still favouring Australia. The job was nonetheless far from done, as Costly romped away on the break, forcing a save from Ryan.

    Milos Degenek was brought on for Risdon, a rare defensive substitution from Postecoglou. The match had now entered the grating final throes, a stage in which it would be vital Australia maintain concentration. Luongo then fouled Chirinos in a dangerous position, deep in Australia’s defensive half. A perilous free kick came to nothing, Australia bailed out by a Honduran foul. Nikita Rukavytsya was sent on for Juric, an injection of pace into a weary game if nothing else. 

    Aaron Mooy sent another free kick spiralling over the byline, a wasted opportunity as the match wound down. The final whistle went and the Australian players’ shoulders slumped, more in relief that this mealy slog was over than in disappointment it had ended in parity. A clean sheet earned under atrocious conditions away from home. Australia can be proud of their defensive stolidity in San Pedro Sula, effectively shutting down Honduras on their own boggy patch.

    Jedinak made a mockery of calls – my own included – for his exclusion. Sainsbury and the defence were largely faultless save for some shaky moments from Josh Risdon. Luongo and Mooy performed as well as could have been expected. Juric’s profligacy was excusable, just.

    The home leg won’t be played on a pudding pitch, and will – that’s right, will – be contested in front of an impassioned, capacity green and gold crowd. Cautious confidence, with Russia in sight.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (82)

    • November 12th 2017 @ 6:10am
      Footoverhand said | November 12th 2017 @ 6:10am | ! Report

      Highlighted how much teams in Asia have improved, Honduras were no where near the level of Saudi Arabia and the pitch was terrible!
      I reckon on that game, Thailand were a harder team to play, I’m feeling confident for the Sydney game.
      Credit to Ange, he got it pretty much all right, not much he could have done better as a coach.

      • November 12th 2017 @ 7:01am
        punter said | November 12th 2017 @ 7:01am | ! Report

        Giving credit to the coach, now that is something different.

        • November 12th 2017 @ 7:12am
          Footoverhand said | November 12th 2017 @ 7:12am | ! Report

          Fair is fair.

      • Roar Rookie

        November 12th 2017 @ 3:46pm
        The Phantom Commissioner said | November 12th 2017 @ 3:46pm | ! Report

        Yep i think Thailand were technically superior to Honduras, of course having said that they’ll come out and play like Brazil on Wednesday.

        • Roar Guru

          November 12th 2017 @ 3:52pm
          Ben of Phnom Penh said | November 12th 2017 @ 3:52pm | ! Report

          Thailand are a lot better side than their final results suggested. Fitness is one of their key issues, however they are a nation that gets stronger every year.

          • November 12th 2017 @ 4:02pm
            Footoverhand said | November 12th 2017 @ 4:02pm | ! Report

            Yep they are definitely improving, same as Vietnam.

        • November 12th 2017 @ 3:57pm
          Footoverhand said | November 12th 2017 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

          They have 2 players coming back from suspension like us, a forward and a central defender that is their Captain.
          So just our luck!
          We have Milligan and Leckie (he did have an injury and didn’t play for his team in Germany), we also have Kruse and Cahill who both missed the first leg from injury.
          It’ll be interesting how we line up and if everyone is fit.

    • Roar Pro

      November 12th 2017 @ 6:24am
      Lance Skelton said | November 12th 2017 @ 6:24am | ! Report

      I think Robbie Slater and Harry Kewell will make a difference in the return leg.

      • November 12th 2017 @ 6:50am
        punter said | November 12th 2017 @ 6:50am | ! Report

        Harry has said he found watching Wayne Carey & Sam Kerr’s brother play in the GF inspirational.

    • November 12th 2017 @ 9:17am
      Skipper said | November 12th 2017 @ 9:17am | ! Report

      Nothing matters now. Shape, tempo, the deck, Timmy in or out, Ange staying or going. All we need to do is win. Boo the Hondurans from the moment they hit clear air above Port Botany to when the seat belt sign goes off on departure. An nice early goal will help to ease the nerves and please football god, please dont give them a Mark Milligan dear in the headlights sniff off a turnover attempting to be Iniesta. Fast aggressive and in their faces. Like Thailand but with the finishing touches. Ole’ Roos. An entire code in a country that needs you at the big dance to survive is relying on you.

    • November 12th 2017 @ 10:04am
      Nemesis said | November 12th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

      Well said, Evan.

      Before the match in Honduras, the pessimists on this forum were talking of Honduras scoring a comfortable win over the Aussies, who were coached by a tactically naive egomaniac & players who were technically poor and not good enough cattle.

      What happened? The Aussie lads played their own game & Honduras had one definite goal chance at the end, whilst Australia had 3 definite goal chances & a handful of half chances.

      Now that we got a 0-0 draw away, the pessimists, the Ange haters & the football illiterates are diminishing the result with absurd comments: “Honduras were rubbish”

      Some even suggesting a 0-0 draw helps Honduras. Apparently, not winning at home is considered an advantage to some keyboard analysts.

      Honduras played 8 Concacaf home matches during the Qualification for Russia 2018.

      Honduras beat Mexico & scored 3 on the same pitch that Australia kept Honduras to 1 chance on goal.
      Honduras drew 1-1 with USA on the same pitch that Australia kept Honduras to 1 chance on goal.
      Honduras drew 1-1 with Costa Rica in the same city that Australia kept Honduras to 1 chance on goal.

      If people think Honduras were poor yesterday, that’s because Australia made them look poor.

      • November 12th 2017 @ 10:51am
        Hughster said | November 12th 2017 @ 10:51am | ! Report


      • November 12th 2017 @ 11:32am
        Footballer said | November 12th 2017 @ 11:32am | ! Report

        That’s because the 0-0 at-home draw DOES help Honduras, immensely. If Honduras now scores just 1 goal in Sydney, we have to score 3 to win and progress. Wasting simple and incredibly valuable away goal chances against a very poor Honduran side may end up proving to be a complete disaster for the Socceroos, that Ange and the Aus media are glossing over at the moment with bravado, saying we somehow have the advantage?! I guess we’ll find out, but that was genuinely the most toothless, unfit, ragged opponent we have had for years, and we still couldn’t score, as usual, but at least for once, we played direct through the middle rather than constantly funnelling the ball backward over and over. Outfield we’re okay, but it’s in front of goal where our lack of footballing sophistication is glaringly obvious these days.. the attackers from any of the top 20 footballing nations would have calmly slotted 5 goals past that shambolic Honduran midfield and defence. Thank God we have the magnificent Trent Sainsbury in impeccable form at the back for the Sydney match. He, Matt Ryan and Ange Postecoglou are our best chances of sneaking a win.

        • November 12th 2017 @ 12:23pm
          Waz said | November 12th 2017 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

          If Honduras score 1 then we have to score 2 (not 3). The statement “away goals count double” misses the original “it’s slmost like away goals count double” they do not actually count “double” but are merely a way of separating sides equal on goals.

        • November 12th 2017 @ 12:32pm
          Nemesis said | November 12th 2017 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

          “That’s because the 0-0 at-home draw DOES help Honduras, immensely”

          The minimum any team should expect when playing at home is a win.

          Stuff the Away Goal. Australia needs to win at home. If we cannot win, we don’t deserve to go to Russia 2018.

          Honduras didn’t win at home, so their home leg was a failure.

        • November 12th 2017 @ 9:11pm
          chris said | November 12th 2017 @ 9:11pm | ! Report

          “That’s because the 0-0 at-home draw DOES help Honduras, immensely. If Honduras now scores just 1 goal in Sydney, we have to score 3 to win and progress.”
          2-1 win is more than enough.

        • November 13th 2017 @ 8:47am
          Post_hoc said | November 13th 2017 @ 8:47am | ! Report

          Sorry to say any criticism of the Socceroos, of Ange of anything really, is rendered meaningless when you say we need to score 3 goals if they score 1. You really don’t have a clue, it would suggest you learn to shut up and let people that actually know what the hell is going on. You never know you might learn something

      • November 12th 2017 @ 4:58pm
        KJ said | November 12th 2017 @ 4:58pm | ! Report

        Good post. Completely agree.

      • November 12th 2017 @ 8:39pm
        Kenny said | November 12th 2017 @ 8:39pm | ! Report

        We have a problem Houston we can’t score goals .

      • November 13th 2017 @ 12:09am
        Albo said | November 13th 2017 @ 12:09am | ! Report

        But you neglect to say that Australia once again showed they couldn’t perform in front of goal. They wasted 3 or 4 regulation goal opportunities that would have wrapped up the trip to Russia. So we still need them to score a goal in Sydney to secure the spot, and also hope that Honduras don’t get lucky with a deflected or scrambled away goal or dodgy referees call, putting us in real trouble again. Sure 0-0 away is a result, but an on offer 3-0 would have been job already completed, and we again wasted the golden opportunity. Lets hope we don’t rue this waste in Honduras after Wednesday and that we don’t cop another result like 1997.

    • November 12th 2017 @ 10:07am
      Footballer said | November 12th 2017 @ 10:07am | ! Report

      Very odd that Ange and the Aussie media tout us as now having the upper hand after this result, when the away goal rule now clearly favours Honduras. Nil all in Sydney means we miss out and Honduras goes through. Even worse, if Honduras score one goal, we will have to score 3. Oh, for an away goal.

      • November 12th 2017 @ 12:24pm
        Waz said | November 12th 2017 @ 12:24pm | ! Report

        nil-all and the game goes to extra time and then penalties.

      • November 12th 2017 @ 1:03pm
        Duckistani said | November 12th 2017 @ 1:03pm | ! Report

        You are fake news!

      • Roar Pro

        November 12th 2017 @ 4:07pm
        David McDaniel said | November 12th 2017 @ 4:07pm | ! Report

        You really have no idea do you?

      • November 12th 2017 @ 4:59pm
        KJ said | November 12th 2017 @ 4:59pm | ! Report

        If Honduras score 1 goal, we need to score 2.

        Away goals only count for more if the teams can’t be split regarding wins draws and loses.

    • November 12th 2017 @ 11:39am
      Cool N Cold said | November 12th 2017 @ 11:39am | ! Report

      I am not anti-soccer. I am not anti-socceroos. However, I just want supporters don’t be overconfident, just be confident sensibly. Game sensibly – responsibly confident. Just because of age difference, some people have become not so risky taking when they have grown older.

      At that time many of the socceroos were kids. They do not know very well what happened. Aaron Mooy had just celebrated his 7th birthday for example. The same is true for many fans and journalists.

      That was the first time World Cup had 32 spots (teams). Many countries wanted to get the chance to qualify for the finals. Thirty one countries qualified. Only the the last 32nd spot was not determined. That was one of the reasons why that match “Aus vs Iran in Nov 1997” caught so much attention around the world to see which was the last qualifying team to go the finals in 1998.

      After the first leg match in Iran, newspapers reported that socceroos had a good chance of qualifying.

      However, the outcome was astonishing and sad. Also, the second goal lost was a bit comical. If you have seen the replay you would know better.

      If you have not seen, watch it at I have not seen any repay. For many years, whenever, SBS, ABC or other channels talked about it, I switch channel.

      One of the other reasons why that match caught so much world wide attention is that there was a famous “curse” on Australian soccer.

      So, whenever talking about the 1997 Aus-Iran match, the thinking will automatically link to that “curse”. There are many reports about this online but handily

      Many fans, players, coaching team members and FFA officials were frozen by the result.

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