Final hurdle awaits Australia, Honduras

  • Australia and Honduras chase Russia 2018 berth via intercontinental route

  • The two nations featured at Brazil 2014

  • Both teams boosted by return of several key players

After two gruelling years of qualifying competition, it all comes down to 90 minutes for Australia and Honduras as they seek a ticket to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

The pair played out an intense scoreless on Saturday on an extremely heavy pitch in San Pedro Sula, with just four-and-a-half days to recover (considering timezones) heading into Wednesday’s return in Sydney.

Both Australia and Honduras are seeking to achieve new landmarks in their football history by respectively achieving a fourth and third successive qualification for the first time.

Australia will be hoping the venue will be something of a good omen, with Sydney’s Olympic Stadium the scene for their drought-breaking 2006 World Cup qualification. Wednesday’s match will be played just one day short of 12 years since the Socceroos’ storied penalty shoot-out victory over Uruguay.

Refreshed Socceroos spoilt for attacking options The demanding first-leg pitch combined with the travel is likely to impact on both teams, but Australia will be hoping to be less drained. The Socceroos, who are used to long journeys and changing time zones in Asia, arrived earlier for the return match than their opponents. Their line-up is also likely to be rejuvenated by numerous fresh personnel with Mark Milligan and Matthew Leckie returning from suspension. Tim Cahill is confirmed to be available after a recent ankle injury, while Robbie Kruse also returns.

Los Catrachos buoyed at either end of the park The visitors will also benefit from the return of veteran skipper Maynor Figueroa and speedy winger Alberth Elis, both from suspension. However, key forward Eddie Hernandez remains absent due to a facial injury. While Honduras, who arrived in Sydney on Monday for their first-ever intercontinental play-off, were mostly restricted to counter-attacks in the first leg, they know an early away goal would change the momentum of the tie.

Players to watch Matthew Leckie’s raw pace and tireless energy on the right flank will likely be a constant headache for the Honduras’ defence. Though still on 26, Leckie is now one of Australia’s most experienced campaigners. After numerous seasons in Germany, Leckie has found his feet this term at Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin.

Jet-heeled young forward Alberth Elis poses a likely threat to Australia, particularly on the counter-attack. After a breakthrough season with Houston Dynamo, the 21-year-old has scored some important goals during his maiden World Cup campaign, including in last month’s decisive 3-2 win over Mexico.

The stat 1 – Australia have lost just once on home soil in World Cup qualifiers since 1981. Their only defeat in the past 60 matches was a 1-0 loss in Sydney against China PR in 2008, when the home side lined up with numerous U-23 players.

The match Australia-Honduras, Sydney, 15 November (20:00 local time, 10:00 CET)