Sport Socceroos set for Honduran cauldron

03:07  10 november  2017
03:07  10 november  2017 Source:   MSN

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Australia's Tim Cahill celebrates after scoring in extra time during the 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Australia and Syria© AAP Image/Dean Lewins Australia's Tim Cahill celebrates after scoring in extra time during the 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Australia and Syria Australia will aim to turn Honduras' biggest strength - their fiery home support - on its head in the opening match of their intercontinental World Cup play-off.

The Socceroos face the world No.69 Hondurans on Saturday morning (AEDT) in San Pedro Sula, beginning a two-match series that will send one of the teams to Russia.

It's a challenging road the Socceroos have walked several times before, and one coach Ange Postecoglou insists his team is up for.

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"We're going as hard as we can in both games and they'll have to keep up," he said.

On paper, Australia match up well with their opponents, with more overseas-based stars, more wins in qualifying and a better qualifying pedigree.

But the Socceroos face challenges - both in their own ranks and from the opposition.

The absence of Mark Milligan, Mat Leckie (suspension), Robbie Kruse (knee) and an injury to superstar forward Tim Cahill means Postecoglou must rejig his team for the away leg.

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  Murder, Isis sledges driving Honduras As if winning a place at the 2018 World Cup wasn't enough motivation, Honduras' captain says media belittling by Australia is pushing them to triumph.On the eve of their World Cup qualifying playoff, Honduras captain Maynor Figueroa has made clear his team's annoyance with reports from Australia characterising their country as dangerous and violent.

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Australia also have a poor record in World Cup play-offs. The Socceroos are yet to win an away leg and have qualified just once from six appearances.

Then there's 'La Tumba'.

The Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, nicknamed the tomb for its reputation of ending the careers of opposition coaches, is Honduras' best asset.

Los Catrachos have lost just four times in 25 home qualifiers over the past decade, a solid foundation they have used to reach the last two World Cups.

The 40,000-capacity stadium will be rocking for Australia's visit, but Postecoglou isn't skiving away from the occasion.

His message is to bring it on.

"The atmosphere, it will be passionate as it should be," he said.

"We know there's a big prize at stake and we're not expecting to come here and have an easy ride.

"Players will be looking forward to that."

Convention in home and away play-offs is that avoiding defeat in the away tie is key to succeeding over two legs.

Comment: World Cup play-off: It's half-time against Honduras, but Australia are well-placed in World Cup chase

  Comment: World Cup play-off: It's half-time against Honduras, but Australia are well-placed in World Cup chase The temptation now is to regard the second leg of Australia's World Cup qualifier against Honduras as almost a formality after the Socceroos secured a 0-0 draw in San Pedro Sula. After all, the stars seem to be aligning.The Socceroos dominated their away leg against the Central Americans, controlled the game, spurned several good chances and should really be coming back to Sydney at least one, and probably two, goals to the good. With any luck at all an automatic place at the finals next year in Russia would be all but sealed.

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The Socceroos believe an unbeaten record in hot-weather away days - in Thailand, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia - so far on the road to Russia holds them in good stead.

Tom Juric, who will lead the line in San Pedro Sula, said he would relish the occasion.

"These hostile environments, I like playing in these sort of games," he said.

"That will bring the best out of a lot of us.

"It will be a key to stay focused on what we do and keep those emotions to a minimum."

Of course, Honduras will face the same gauntlet in Australia.

The Central Americans' home record is impressive - but Australia's run of just one home qualifying loss since 1981 - some 58 matches - is untouchable.

Keeping one eye on the home leg, Postecoglou said he will make Honduras work for a result ahead of the return to ANZ Stadium on November 15.

"This is their chance in a two-legged tie to really use every advantage that they have in terms of the crowd, in terms of their conditions. We expect everything to be in their favour," he said.

"Then we come home and we expect to get 80,000 in our stadium.

"For all the talk of the environment and the conditions, our home form is pretty formidable so they'll need to get something out of this game."

Postecoglou: I'm focused on Honduras, not my future .
Ange Postecoglou is focused entirely on Australia's World Cup play-off against Honduras.Postecoglou's future is unclear after a report earlier this month suggested he would quit – even if the Socceroos reach Russia 2018.

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