The tyranny of distance has long been said to put at a disadvantage in terms of its trading and economic relations with the rest of the world. But in sporting terms, the country’s isolation can be a massive benefit, and for no team is this more apparent than for the Socceroos.
In nearly four decades, the national team has been virtually unbeatable at “Fortress “, particularly when they play in Sydney, where in recent times they have enjoyed their greatest success.
It was at Stadium nearly three years ago that the Socceroos, led by Ange Postecoglou and Mile Jedinak, won the Asian Cup, the first major silverware won by the national men’s team.
The Socceroos had the final against South Korea all but wrapped up before their opponents equalised close to the final whistle, ensuring any win would be hard-fought in extra-time.
That was one of ‘s nine wins in 11 competitive games at Olympic Park, having drawn once and lost only one match, against China in 2008, where a second-string and youthful team was fielded in a dead-rubber.
As they head into Wednesday night’s do-or-die World Cup qualifier with Honduras, the players and staff take great strength from the fact that they will not only be facing Honduras in this final decider on their own turf but at a venue which holds such positive memories for them.
“We have traditionally had a great home record. I mentioned last time, part of that is because so many of our players do play abroad, playing at home takes extra significance to them because they rarely get to do it,” Postecoglou said.
“Their club football is played on the other side of the world so the opportunity to play in front of n supporters and family and friends, I think it does give our national team a lift.”
But the boost is not just from the players’ nearest and dearest. Being in familiar surroundings builds confidence and brings a sense of ease, allowing them to focus fully on the job in hand without extraneous distractions.
“In terms of the conditions, that makes a difference as well. You know when you play away from home that you are up against it in every aspect.
“From what I understand there will be over 70,000 here tomorrow [Wednesday evening] which is going to be a great atmosphere and I feel the players will enjoy playing in that sort of stadium,” Postecoglou, who has often in the past urged supporters to create an intimidating atmosphere, said.
Jedinak, who has spent his life playing in front of big crowds for his club teams and country – including captaining Crystal Palace in an FA Cup final – concurred.”You play abroad, you don’t get to play in front of family and friends and the n public in general. It’s always extra special – I would be kidding to say it wasn’t.The only other qualifier lost came against New Zealand in 1981.
By contrast, Honduras are battling an ominous away record and what media and fans are dubbing as a “five-minute curse”. Only once in eight away games throughout their two qualifying phases have Los Catrachos won on the road, a 2-1 win over the bottom placed Trinidad and Tobago.
The strength of Honduras hinged on the intimidating atmosphere and harsh conditions of Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula and having failed to gained a major advantage over in their home fixture, they will now be forced to buck their trend on the road.
But in a country that has an abundance of superstition attached to its football, none is more precarious than the late-game “curse”. Their inability to see out leads to their conclusion has supporters and pundits believing in a jinx hovering above the team. Honduras frequently collapse late in games and throw away leads in the final minutes of competitive matches.
Four times during their road to Russia, Honduras squandered one-goal leads in the final five minutes. It happened first against rivals El Salvador in a 2-2 draw. Then Panama equalised late during a 2-2 draw in the second stage before USA nabbed a late equaliser in September’s 1-1 draw in San Pedro Sula. Costa Rica were the latest, scoring deep in injury time in October to make it 1-1.
They weren’t immune either in the 2016 Olympics and what some Hondurans are dubbing as “the curse” hasn’t gone unnoticed by their coach, Jose Luis Pinto.
“Due to some of those mistakes, we’re here in the intercontinental play-off instead of going straight to the World Cup,” Pinto said. “We will definitely do some things to address that, mental and tactical.”