WITH World Cup qualification on the line, Will Dyer (@w2dyer) puts forward his two cents on the clash in San Pedro Sula. Which of these sides will be in the driving seat for Sydney's second leg?
Honduras v Australia | Friday 10th November 2017, 22:00
Australia travel to the most dangerous city in the world on Friday night to face Honduras in the first of a World Cup play-off double header. Depending on your source, San Pedro Sula has the highest murder rate on Earth and it’s therefore likely to be an intimidating experience for the Socceroos.
The Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano is the biggest stadium in the country at a capacity of 42,000 but has only been the home of Honduran football since 2009. However, during that short period, Los Catrachos have qualified for two World Cups – making this the most successful period in the Central American country’s history.
Honduras have finished bottom of their World Cup group on all three occasions that they qualified for the tournament proper. Those three campaigns failed to muster a win on the big stage but did produce three draws against some tough opposition.
The recent successes of the national team aren’t confined to the World Cup, Honduras made the semi-final in four of the last seven CONCACAF Gold Cups and have won two of the last four Copa Centroamericanas; including this year’s competition in Panama where they went unbeaten through the five games.
Recent World Cup mainstays
Australia visit off the back of a strong rise in the FIFA rankings since 2014 when they recorded their lowest of all-time at 102nd, they are now back to 43rd. The Socceroos have qualified for all of the last three World Cups but finished bottom of a tough group in 2014.
Ange Postecoglou’s men had some scares during a qualifying campaign that was more long-winded than previous. It led to them finishing third in the final group and being forced into a play-off by Saudi Arabia’s superior goal difference.
Towards the backend of 2016, Australia drew four qualifiers on the trot against Iraq, Thailand, Saudi Arabia and Japan which put them in a precarious position under pressure from the UAE and Iraq.
The Aussies reverted to lone striker formations in 2017 and it’s borne fruit. Going forward, Tomi Juric, Matthew Leckie, Mile Jedinak and Tom Rogic have been crucial in bagging the goals to get their nation this far but it in the previous play-off against Syria progression boiled down to the exploits of the talismanic Tim Cahill.
Coming of age
Cahill’s extra time winner in Sydney last month was his 50th international goal from just 103 caps. Since his debut in 2004 he has scored in every calendar year and Russia would be his fourth world cup. He’s scored in all three previous with five goals in total, including a memorable volley against Netherlands in Brazil 2014.
The soon-to-be 38-year-old captain is no longer lent on though. There’s a raft of players in their mid-20s all in the prime of their careers; Trent Sainsbury, Massimo Luongo and most notably Aaron Mooy. As well as the aforementioned Rogic, Juric and Leckie.
Mooy, at Huddersfield Town, has been one of the players of the season in this year’s Premier League and is fancied to feature for his parent club Manchester City in the years to come.
Honduras, conversely, have a little more senior look to their squad. Stalwarts Maynor Figueroa, Emilio Izaguirre and Boniek Garcia have amassed 365 between them and Jorge Luis Pinto has 10 different players at his disposal with more than 40 caps.
Goals hard to come by
In the last three series of Inter-Confederation World Cup play-offs, which sees AFC, OFC, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL nations fight it out, four out of six first legs have gone Under 2.5 Goals, with three of those games having less than two goals. That includes Australia’s last involvement; they later knocked out World Cup giants Uruguay on penalties after the tie finished 1-1 on aggregate.
In total, nine of those 12 games had Under 2.5 Goals and I think we can expect more of the same in this game. This is international football, notoriously low scoring.
It’s also a game between two nations who’ve never met; a match of unknowns and I believe both managers will want to feel this out, although that does favour Australia with the second leg being at home.
Ten of Australia’s last 14 competitive international games have had two or less goals, but interestingly nine of them had exactly two goals. There’s not much value in Under 2.5 Goals at 8/13 and I’ve toyed with the idea of the Under 2.0 Asian Goal Line at around evens but for me the best bet is Exactly Two Goals at 12/5 with Bet365; which would cover 1-1 and 2-0 to either side.
Pinto will want to take a lead down under and their colourful home crowd is likely to get under the skin of the Socceroos but Evens for the home win seems a tad short to me. Instead a play on two goals, about par for an International match, at a good price seems logical.
Honduras v Australia – Exactly 2 Goals (12/5 Bet365)