The Olyroos may have reached Tokyo 2020 with all the finesse of Eric the Eel, but there’s no doubt their qualification is a huge achievement and a major boost for Australian football.
Wariness quickly morphed into confidence when the final whistle blew in San Pedro Sula. The Socceroos played cohesively, moved the ball out of defence untroubled and executed the maligned Ange Postecoglou plan to perfection – albeit without the crucial goal.
A score would have nearly wrapped up qualification, but going through with such ease would almost be un-Australian. Having been efficiently led over the two legs, the Socceroos will still be expected to qualify on Wednesday evening.
Throughout Postecoglou’s tenure, Australia’s biggest strength has been the precision with which the squad and attitudes have been managed during major tournaments.
Goals may win games but comradery, mateship and attitude will take Australia to the 2018 World Cup finals. Yes, this is cliched, but it’s not entirely false either.
It is no coincidence that Australia’s best performances post-2010 have been in the three tournaments under Postecoglou.
The Socceroos were gallant during the 2014 World Cup in the ‘group of death’ and would have progressed to the next round had they been in any other group.
A successful 2015 Asian Cup and an impressive display throughout the 2017 Confederations Cup demonstrated the Socceroos knew how to manage themselves during tournaments.
The intercontinental play-off is no tournament, but it may as well be.
It is no secret the side does their best work after spending a prolonged period together in camp rather than abiding by a rushed and uncomfortable schedule.
Mile Jedinak and Massimo Luongo, who were left out of the squad for much of the AFC qualifiers, were two of the best on the ground in the first leg, showcasing the significance of proper preparation.
Looking deeper, the players are being managed to perfection, receiving luxury treatment aboard the charter flight home, while the Hondurans endure a 33-hour flight with two stopovers.
Massage tables and anti-fatigue glasses were only some of the perks on the Qantas Airbus A330 that the team is flying on.
Such management and care was one of if not the biggest contributor to Australia overcoming Uruguay in 2005.
The players seemed buoyant in the lead up to the first leg, not being intimidated by their opposition or the fans who came out in droves with sticks and stones.
Much of this stems from Postecoglou.
The former South Melbourne and Brisbane Roar manager has a certain arrogance and swagger about him which makes you grateful he is on your side. He’s gone in to bat numerous times for his players.
Postecoglou will stay should Australia qualify. He is not one to abandon a mission so close to the end and after all, this is his team.
Meanwhile, the Hondurans showed signs of unrest during and after the game. Players swarming the referee after a match is nothing new, but the fear and uncertainty which circulated seemed genuine.
They knew they had blown a massive chance.
The Hondurans may have been at home, but they played like the visitors as they were dominated in possession and heavily reliant on the counter-attack.
An unorganised structure and plethora of long balls allowed the Socceroos to dictate the pace and more importantly silence the home crowd, who up until the 15th minute were all fans back home could hear due to technical difficulties with the Fox Sports commentary.
Common sense indicates one should never underestimate their opponent, but when comparing the attitudes between the two sides, it feels as though the Australians have the upper hand.
After all, Honduras is a side Australia should be beating at home.
Aside from Oceania, CONCACAF is perhaps the weakest confederation – so one would assume the Asian Champions would be capable overcoming the fourth-ranked North American side.
However, such logic does tend to go out the window in these circumstances.
Playing on the ANZ surface should benefit the Socceroos who play a possession based game, which was difficult yet somehow achieved on the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano.
The path to the World Cup finals may be a little unorthodox to the liking of many fans, but the players seem unfazed.
When the players walk out on Wednesday, they hold in their hands not only the fate of their place in the World Cup but also that of football’s legacy in Australia.