Hero of the night: Mile Jedinak. Photo: AAPIt’s required22 games, taken 29 months and over 250,000 kilometres but finally reached their final destination; the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The longest and hardest qualifying campaign that any team has endured in the tournament’s history couldn’t derail the Socceroos as they sealed a 3-1 win over Honduras to qualify for their fourth successive World Cup.
For all the pressure and tension surrounding their most important competitive match in the last 12 years, the Socceroos saved their most comfortable win ofthe latter stages of qualification to last. A superb second-half performance from was capped off with a hat trick for captain Mile Jedinak. There was no shortage of fortune but it was nothing less than deserved after receiving little favours on their gruelling road to Russia. Jedinak was the hero, converting twopenalties and a deflected free-kick to ensure will be part of the biggest show on earth.
It didn’t start so pretty for as a nervous beginning wasso nearly a disastrous one. A heavy challenge over the ball from Matt Jurmanon Honduras’ Alberth Elisreceived a yellow card and had it been slightly mistimed, would have reduced to 10 men after two minutes.
That moment of jitters and enthusiasm set the tone for the first half as neither team managed to gain any composure or grip on the contest. The fluidity the Socceroos’ found amid the sapping conditionsin San Pedro Sulawasn’t replicated early in Sydney.
The visitors’ game plan to lock down the middle of the park made for unpleasant viewing for anyone other than their coach, Jorge Luis Pinto. They delayed ‘s firstclear chance until the 35th minute. A clever back heel from Tim Cahill found the run of Aziz Behich on the left flank whose driven cross landed at the feet of Tom Rogic. The Celtic midfielder shot low for the corner but was denied by another fine save from Escober who continued his form from the firstfirst leg.
Job done: Mile Jedinak is mobbed after scoring. Photo: AP
More purpose than poise heaped pressure after the restart turned the screws on Honduras and it didn’t take much sustained pressure to find an opening and a darting run by Tom Rogiccould only be stopped by a foul on the edge of the box.
After such an arduous campaign offered little luck to , fortune finally shone on the Socceroos. A wicked deflection from substitute Henry FigueroaguidedJedinak’sfree-kick into the net and on the path to Russia as the Socceroos broke the deadlock in the tie.
After 57 minutes of near silence, it brought the 77,060 fans became active once the gravitas sank in. They remained on their feet when Rogic’s long-range volley almost achieved the spectacular before Cahill was denied their second by the crossbar with a daring header from the edge of the box.
However, luck shone on the Socceroos once more.Argentinian referee Nestor Pitanagave a chance to book their tickets to Russia after blowing for a contentious penaltyafter ruling Bryan Acosta handled the ball inside the box. After being denied what looked a certain spot kick in the first leg, Jedinak was in no forgiving mood. Thumping a penalty past Escober to book their ticket to Russia.
The Socceroos were gifted another penalty when Palacios hauled Robbie Kruse en-route to goal and yet again, Jedinak made no mistake as sealed their passage to Russia. A late scramble goal by Elis almost went unnoticed as began the celebrations that will go long into the night, and all the way to Moscow in June.