The Socceroos arrived back in Australia on Sunday, getting the first advantage over Honduras ahead of the return leg of their intercontinental playoff for a spot at next year’s World Cup.
The Australians left Honduras on a charter flight within hours of the 0-0 draw in the first leg at San Pedro Sula and flew home with one quick stop, aiming to cut down on the travel fatigue and get refreshed as quickly as possible for Wednesday’s deciding match in Sydney. The Socceroos were frustrated after several missed opportunities in the away leg, but coach Ange Postecoglou was content not to have conceded a goal.
The Hondurans preferred a night at home after the first match and were taking a commercial flight via Dallas, a relative disadvantage considering the long flight and the 17-hour time difference between San Pedro Sula and Sydney.
“Every little bit counts in such big games,” Australia defender Trent Sainsbury said after landing on home soil. “Honduras still have a long way to go; we’re already here and we can recover and be fresh we’ll take every little advantage we can get at the moment.”
The Australian players traveled from three continents to assemble in Honduras last week, but have remained as a squad in the meantime. And they’re also familiar with the long-haul flights from playing club football abroad and having to travel for Asian qualifiers far away in countries such as Saudi Arabia.
The Australians quietened the raucous, parochial crowd in Honduras last Friday local time, and are hoping to use a bigger crowd packed with their own fans at Sydney’s Olympic stadium to get them through on Wednesday. It was the same venue where the Socceroos ended decades of intercontinental playoff disappointments with a win on penalties over Uruguay in 2005 to qualify for the following year’s World Cup in Germany.
The Australians have qualified for both World Cups since then, and are hoping to make it four in a row by securing a spot for Russia. Postecoglou’s squad will be bolstered by the return of Mathew Leckie and Mark Milligan who were suspended for the first leg of the series and the return from injury of Robbie Kruse. Sainsbury said nobody was under any illusions about what was at stake this week.
“You make a mistake and it could be the end of the road. You win and we’re going to Russia,” Sainsbury said. “We’ve done it multiple times, there’s always a lot of pressure.
“This team is coming of age now and the next step will be to beat this Honduras team and then have a really good World Cup.”