Despite all the media hype and fan emotion around the occasion, the reality is that there is a football game to be won on Wednesday – and all the passion, exuberance and vocalisation of support counts for nothing if the team fails to execute a tactically superior game to their opponents.
San Pedro Sula saw that exact eventuality, unfortunately rewards on the scoreboard weren’t forthcoming and the stalemate must be broken in Sydney.
The home pitch, atmosphere and conditions will no doubt play a role, as they did in Honduras, however, I am getting sick of hearing about the advantages the Socceroos have back in Australia and the subsequent victory that ‘should’ come their way.
A sea of yellow and national fervour is fine, yet for the Socceroos to triumph, a few rather obvious key performance indicators need to be hit. Without them, the Hondurans will be in a position to pounce on what would be a wonderful victory away from home.
1. Ignore the media
Sadly, there will be a lot of people writing about football this week who do so infrequently. The hype around the game will steadily ramp up and members of the broader print media – whose commitment to football is about as reliable as the citizenship status of a Federal Minister – will become oracles of football knowledge.
In that commentary, they will cite home advantage, a smooth surface, and the massive support of the local crowd as reasons why the Socceroos are ‘sure things’ to advance to the big dance in Russia next year.
Nothing could be further from the truth and for every foolish journalist who seeks to climb aboard the wave of energy around the squad, let’s hope there are two level-headed types who ask tactical and technical questions that remind the manager and the players of the task at hand.
2. Be awake early
If Ange Postecoglou doesn’t use this as a mantra throughout the week I will be very surprised. Honduras started far better than the Socceroos and it took the Australians around 20 minutes to achieve some level of control over the midfield. In addition, Australia’s tendency to concede early has been something of a pattern in recent years.
The worst-case scenario for the Socceroos is to concede an early goal, just as they seemed likely to do in the first leg.
If the Aussies are serious about a place in Russia, the first quarter of the game is vital and they must play with a vigour befitting the desperation of the situation.
3. Stick with personnel
The team that Postecoglou sent out onto the pitch in San Pedro Sula was as balanced, youthful and agile as any he has played in recent history. There was something refreshing about the make-up of the XI and it was greeted with praise by most pre-game pundits.
Jackson Irvine, Bailey Wright, Massimo Luongo, Aziz Behich, Josh Risdon and Aaron Mooy are key cogs in the future, and have earned the right to take responsibility for this chapter in Australia’s footballing story.
It’s also time for many to realise that our leader, Mile Jedinak, is exactly that. As loyal and consistent as Mark Milligan has been, the skipper brought a steel to the backbone of the midfield and, despite looking a little underdone, his physical presence was worth more than many will ever appreciate.
With some familiar faces missing, namely Matthew Leckie and Robbie Kruse, perhaps we have come to the point where the next wave are ready, willing and able.
Rushing the fresh legs back in might miss the point.
Undoubtedly, Jedinak’s physical condition will be an issue, however, where possible, it might be prudent to allow the supporting cast to continue their journey. Using Tim Cahill off the bench and maintaining the balance through the midfield might serve the squad better than rebranding the team after such a polished performance on the road.
4. Press, press, press
When the Hondurans made their first two substitutions, they livened up in midfield and took away the Australian dominance of that space. As a result, the Socceroos looked more likely to concede.
Once the fresh legs were matched, and the Socceroos started to regain some control of that area, the equilibrium was restored.
The more defensive mindset they adopted and the clear drop in intensity could kill Australia’s chances of getting to Russia. Controlling leg one was great and the Hondurans were extremely lucky to escape with a draw, however any lapses in the middle of the park or apathy in terms of maintaining brisk ball movement could see the Hondurans presented with the chance to counter.
Their athleticism presents an issue for our back three and the best way to eliminate that threat is to continue to attack in order to keep their potential weapons busy at the wrong end of the pitch.
5. Relax, play football and whatever you do, don’t think about a shootout
Most players in this squad would have sat transfixed to the television when John Aloisi slammed home the most famous penalty in Australia’s football history. Now, it is their turn to produce the same result, yet if romantic thoughts of that famous shootout enter their heads, the Socceroos might be doomed.
Throughout this campaign, there have been overt examples of frustration from our players as they have grappled with stacked defences hellbent on restricting our scoring. These expressions of frustration cannot be part of the body language.This is a different contest at a different time and the glories of the past are now just that. Sure, take some inspiration from our greatest Socceroo team, yet live in the moment and drive home the advantage against Honduras.
The Socceroos need to smile, play boldly and never panic, despite time potentially slipping away late in the game.
Poise, perspective and precision will be the three keys.
Just as your own immediate superior lays out a set of goals and objectives for you as an employee, the Socceroos need to meet a small and achievable set of KPIs in order to execute a methodical gameplan.
Ticking off the above would go a long way towards sending the national team on an epic adventure to Russia in 2018.
An adventure that we would all watch with hope and expectation.