By Ian Griffiths
November 15 – Australia booked their place at next year’s World Cup finals as captain Mile Jedinak struck a second half hat-trick to help earn the Socceroos a richly deserved 3-1 intercontinental play-off win over Honduras at an emotional ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Wednesday.
The victory, which came in the wake of Friday’s first leg goalless draw in San Pedro Sula, saw Australia secure a fourth successive World Cup appearance and become the Asian Football Confederation’s fifth team in Russia – Asia’s highest number of representatives ever – following the earlier successful qualifications of Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“It’s overwhelming to be honest. When you are coaching your own nation the burden of responsibility is even greater. We did it the hard way,” Australia head coach Ange Postecoglou, whose immediate future remains shrouded in mystery, was quoted as saying by FIFA’s official website.
“I said the day I got the job that we weren’t going to take any backward steps. We were going to be bold and ambitious.
“This last four years is the hardest thing I have ever done. Where our starting point was, going to a World Cup with a rookie squad, knowing we had to win the AFC Asian Cup then taking a group of players on a journey they had never been on before.
“I’m going to enjoy tonight. I owe it to myself, my friends and family because they have gone on this journey with me too,” he added.
In a first half which saw the Australians dominate possession without creating any real clear-cut chances, an early Aaron Mooy free-kick which was expertly palmed away by Honduras goalkeeper Donis Escober, and Tommy Rogic’s 39th minute shot into the arms of the visiting custodian from 12 yards represented the closest Postecoglou’s charges came to breaking the deadlock.
However, Australian nerves were to be settled just nine minutes after the restart when, following Bryan Acosta’s foul on Rogic on the edge of the Honduran penalty area, Jedinak’s effort from the resulting free-kick deflected off substitute Henry Figueroa and into the net.
Cahill then looped a fine header on to the Honduras bar with Escober beaten, before Rogic fizzed an effort from distance narrowly wide shortly after the hour mark.
With Honduras repeatedly failing to test the home defence, Jedinak duly doubled Australia’s lead in the 72nd minute with a firmly struck penalty low down to Escober’s right, following Bryan Acosta’s handball.
As Australia continued to press, Jerry Palacios brought down Robbie Kruse in the area 13 minutes later, and Jedinak was on hand once again to complete an unlikely hat-trick with another successful spot-kick and seal Australia’s progress despite a late Alberth Elis consolation goal for Honduras.
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