This qualification campaign throughout the entire world has thrown its fair share of surprises headlined by Italy. The Azzurri are football royalty. With four World Cup victories, six finals appearances not many countries can boast more than the Italians.
A troubled decade which saw consecutive World Cup group stage exits and a depleted player pool compared to the one in 2006 has reached its boiling point.
The Netherlands, the romantics of football failed to qualify for another major tournament after missing out on Euro 2016. Oranje have struggled to recapture the likeliness of past players that have donned the kit.
Across in Africa the past two champions Cameroon and Ivory Coast failed to qualify. United States, the most recent victors of North & Central America’s Gold Cup missed out, as did the back to back champions of South America, Chile.
As like everywhere around the world, continental success can easily be forgotten if it starts to dry up in a short amount of time. The Asian Cup success in 2015 is a distant memory for football fans in Australia now that the focus is on whether or not the Socceroos can overcome Honduras and qualify for Russia. The first leg saw the Socceroos cope with the pressure of a passionate crowd.
Ange Postecoglou’s men contained Honduras extremely well, but with a near perfect Sydney pitch coming into effect the second leg is expected to allow for much more open football.
It will allow Australia to play their desired game plan but it could present Honduras with an opportunity.
A better pitch could allow Honduras’ pacy forwards to open up the Socceroos defence on the counter attack. Hertha Berlin’s Mathew Leckie’s absence in the first leg was very noticeable. Jackson Irvine naturally a centre midfielder was out of depth in an unfamiliar position. There were moments where Leckie’s pace down the touchline was sorely missed and Irvine couldn’t adapt. The return of captain Mile Jedinak and Asian Cup hero Massimo Luongo to the starting XI were significantly impactful.
The much discussed three man defence looked more comfortable with Jedinak shielding them, whilst Luongo’s energy in the midfield was crucial and has given his manager a selection headache with the impeding returns of Leckie, Robbie Kruse and Mark Milligan.
Honduras really struggled to handle Tomi Juric throughout the first leg but with Tim Cahill being readied for the tie in Sydney, the Hondurans have a difficult challenge on their plates. Many felt that Cahill’s presence in the first leg would have provided a desired away goal but now the job is to get the result at home.
A failed qualification campaign for the Socceroos will put them in an illustrious list full of teams that have cabinets full of trophies. Though those teams have been branded as losers and failures. Nobody should be living in the past and the repercussions will not be pleasant if this team is added to that list.
Listen to every second of tonight's final World Cup qualifier live on SWR Triple 9 tonight at 6pm with Julian Daw, Will Gotsis and Scott Jackson.