SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — Australia will fancy their chances of booking a place at next year’s World Cup finals after playing out a goalless draw in the first leg of their playoff clash in Honduras.
The Australians dominated the match and created the better scoring opportunities, but Honduras defended resiliently at home and neither side was able to break the stalemate in a tense opening leg at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano.
Australian striker Tomi Juric missed two clear-cut chances to score — one in each half — and the Socceroos were left confused after Italian referee Daniele Orsato initially seemed to award them a penalty only to apparently change his mind after consulting with an assistant.
Despite the missed opportunities, Australia head coach Ange Postecoglou said he was thrilled with his team’s overall performance and confident of winning the return leg on home soil.
“We’re just missing that clinical edge, but overall I couldn’t be happier,” Postecoglou said in a postmatch interview on Fox Sports. “I thought we were really solid defensively. On a difficult pitch we held our line really well apart from that chance at the end.”
Postecoglou said his squad would be able to up the tempo for Wednesday’s return leg in Sydney.
“We’ve got some fresh legs, we’ll go hard, we’ll put the pedal down and go as hard as we can,” he said. Honduras “will find it hard to keep up with us.”
Honduras, who pipped the United States for fourth spot in CONCACAF qualifying to book a spot in the intercontinental playoff, failed to take advantage of their home-ground advantage.
With the pitch breaking up and making it difficult for players to keep their footing, Los Catrachose spent most of the match defending, although they did create one good chance against the run of play late when veteran striker Carlo Costly broke free and forced Australian goalkeeper Maty Ryan to pull off a sharp save.
The Soccerroos, who beat Syria over two legs to finish fifth in the Asian qualifying section, were left to rue a string of missed opportunities and the absence of several key players to injuries, including veteran Tim Cahill, Australia’s all-time leading scorer.
Juric fired wide of the target midway through the first half when he had only the Honduran goalkeeper Donis Escobar to beat, then let another golden opportunity go begging early in the second period when he directed Josh Risdon’s perfectly-weighted cross straight at Escobar from close range.
“We must take it as a positive,” Socceroos skipper Mile Jedinak said. “In any other game, I think we win the game, we had the chances… but we take a lot of heart from it.
“In this World Cup qualifying campaign, we’ve had to deal with that a lot and tonight was no different. We must now focus on recovery and getting back to our home crowd.”
Australia, bidding to qualify for the World Cup finals for the fourth straight time, were taking a charter flight back to Sydney. Honduras are aiming to make a third straight appearance at the sport’s marquee tournament.