SYDNEY — Australia booked their place at the 2018 World Cup after a convincing 3-1 win over Honduras in Sydney on Wednesday night. Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak was the hero for the hosts, scoring all three goals for Australia, including two from the penalty spot.
Here are three thoughts from the match.
1. First half bore, second half score
Is that harsh on the first 45 minutes? Perhaps Australia's endeavour was on show for a few moments in the first half, with golden chances for Mathew Leckie and Tom Rogic left unrewarded. But as far as inspiring lovers of the beautiful game, Wednesday's playoff followed the same turgid path as many others this week. The lack of snappy defence-turned-attack left much for Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou to ponder at the break.
Leg 2Aggregate: 3 – 1
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The Hondurans, too, never really looked like breaking the first-half stalemate. Their constantly animated coach, Jorge Luis Pinto, would have been the more-satisfied of the two coaches 45 minutes in, with his team still well in with a chance of causing an upset.
Come the second half, though, whatever Postecoglou said in the locker room worked. The Australians looked like a completely different outfit right from the start. The 77,000-strong crowd knew it and were on their feet.
And, after Jedinak struck the free kick which eventually broke the deadlock via a deflection, Postecoglou's planning and strategy was executed.
2. Jedinak back with a bang
For over 180 minutes against Honduras, Jedinak proved how vital a cog he is in the Australia machine, and how much he was missed during the Socceroos' preceding matches against Syria.
His recovery from a groin injury was just what Postecoglou needed and his stabilising midfield presence was key. Credited with the opening goal after a deflection, he then slotted home twice from the penalty spot to show what a cool head he has.
Jedinak stood tall when Australia needed him, and delivered a fourth consecutive World Cup appearance that, at times, looked in doubt.
3. Cahill: The fans got their man
As Socceroos fans told ESPN in the lead-up, Tim Cahill was a "must have" in the starting XI.
When the Melbourne City star was announced as a starter in the hour before the opening whistle, the sell-out crowd in attendance — or those that could get there on time with the local public transport debacle — got their wish too.
Although Cahill wasn't able to deliver any impact on the scoreboard, it was a boost to have him as a starter after missing the opening leg.
But come Russia 2018, is pinning the country's hopes on a 37-year-old really what the people should look for now? It will be a question agonised over by many including Postecoglou — or whoever is coaching the team next year.
Having earned more than a century of Socceroos caps, Cahill is a jewel not just in Australian football's crown, but for the nation in general. It just can't be forever.