SYDNEY: Captain Mile Jedinak fired a second-half hat-trick as Australia swept into next year’s World Cup in Russia with a 3-1 aggregate playoff victory over Honduras in Sydney on Wednesday.
The Aston Villa midfielder’s free kick went in off Henry Figueroa on 54 minutes, and he then buried two penalties in the space of 13 minutes before Honduras scrambled a late consolation through Alberth Elis.
The final whistle heralded a massive roar from the 77,000 home crowd at the Sydney Olympic stadium as the Socceroos claimed the penultimate World Cup qualifying spot, following last week’s 0-0 first-leg draw.
It will be Australia’s fourth consecutive World Cup and fifth overall, and comes in the 22nd game of a mammoth, 29-month qualifying campaign criss-crossing Asia, the Middle East and Central America.
“It’s overwhelming to be honest. When you are coaching your own nation to burden of responsibility is even greater,” said Australia coach Ange Postecoglou.
“I’m delighted for everyone — the players, the staff and the organisation. We did it the hard way and it’s a credit to every one of them,” he added.
The game unravelled for the central Americans with the Socceroos scoring three times in the last 36 minutes stadium after a scoreless first half.
Goal chances were scarce in a cautious opening period, with the best chance falling in the 37th minute to Celtic’s Tom Rogic, whose shot was well saved by Donis Escober.
Argentine referee Nestor Pitana issued a total of three yellow cards, two to Australia’s Matt Jurman and Aaron Mooy and the other to Maynor Figueroa for a foul on Tim Cahill.
Honduras had to substitute injured Emilio Izaguirre nearing half-time with Henry Figueroa.
Australia were fielding four across the back, with deep-lying midfielder Jedinak adding to the rearguard, but the Honduras posed little threat in the first half.
Jedinak broke the deadlock in the 54th minute with free kick which deflected in off Figueroa, but was eventually credited to the skipper after initially being marked as an own goal.
The goal revved up the Socceroos and the capacity home crowd, and Cahill came close with a looping header but Escober scrambled it away off the woodwork.
Cahill’s night was over after 66 minutes, replaced by striker Tomi Juric to a standing ovation from the home crowd in salute to his courageous fightback from a recent ankle injury.
The Socceroos tightened their grip when Bryan Acosta was adjudged to have handballed and the referee pointed to the spot.
Jedinak stepped up and rammed home the spot-kick — his 17th goal in his 73rd international — and Australia were two-up with 18 minutes left.
Substitute Robbie Kruse was then brought down as he closed in on goal and again the referee blew for a penalty, allowing Jedinak to claim his brace with an identical finish.
Elis gave the Honduran fans something to cheer deep in stoppage time with his goal after a goalmouth melee.—AFP