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The hole that Cahill leaves in Australian football

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Five issues Arnold's Australia face

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Socceroos on track for 2018 World Cup but must find cutting edge

 

As the rest of Australia debated controversial refereeing decisions, a terrible pitch and a host of wasted opportunities, the Socceroos had already turned their attention to the second leg of their World Cup qualification playoff against Honduras.

Though the 0-0 result in the first leg -- played in the intimidating venue known as "The Tomb" in San Pedro Sula -- certainly delivered plenty of talking points, the difference between making the World Cup and not could simply come down to travel arrangements.

HondurasHonduras
AustraliaAustralia
0
0
FT
Leg 1
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Only hours after the final whistle, Ange Postecoglou and his team departed Ramon Villeda Morales International Airport on a chartered flight bound for Sydney. Subsequently, the Socceroos arrived around 24 hours before their opponents, giving them ample opportunity to recover prior to Wednesday's clash. With the stakes so high, such an advantage could be crucial.

Along with having plenty of time to mentally and physically prepare for their next contest, the Socceroos will take with them plenty of insight from Friday's first leg.

Postecoglou will rest assured that his midfielders have thus far utterly dominated the Hondurans. With hardnosed skipper Mile Jedinak returning from injury, Aaron Mooy, Massimo Luongo and Jackson Irvine were free pick their moments to join in the attack.

This midfield advantage gave the visitors 56 percent of possession in the end, from which they created a number of gilt-edged chances. However, the Socceroos' nemesis once again was their profligacy in front of goal.

Queens Park Rangers midfielder Massimo Luongo
Australia dominated the midfield against Honduras without getting a crucial away goal.

Irvine had the first real chance just before the half-hour mark when left-back Aziz Behich cut the ball back into his path. Though he blazed over from 12 yards, at least the Hull City man made contact with his shot.

Midway through the second term, Josh Risdon created a mirror image opportunity from the right flank, but when he squared the ball enticingly in front of an empty goal, his teammates had overrun the play.

The best goalscoring chance, though, fell to Tomi Juric, who flicked the ball past the last defender with ease in the 33rd minute, only to scuff his left-footed shot wide across the paddock-like Estadio Olimpico pitch.

All this in addition to Bailey Wright having a decent penalty shout waived off in favour of a clearly incorrect offside call.

Under normal circumstances, these sorts of moments would give a manager -- and indeed, the fans -- cause for great hope ahead of the second leg. Not so for Australia.

The Socceroos' inability to convert from exquisite positions has sadly been a feature of their play for some time. It is an issue they must quickly rectify if they are to progress to Russia. After all, goals win games, not midfield dominance alone.

Tim Cahill second goal celebration against Syria
Tim Cahill didn't see action in the first leg, but is likely to be involved in Sydney on Wednesday.

And so, this tie stands delicately poised. On the one hand, Australia have taken a draw from a demanding away leg. But on the other, Honduras will know that just one goal could be all they need to qualify over a goal-shy Socceroos outfit.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, the Socceroos' decision to immediately place emphasis and focus on the second leg has given them every opportunity for success.

They now have plenty of time to ready sore and injured players -- such as Tim Cahill -- for the biggest game of their up-and-down campaign.

Moving on so swiftly may even be enough to paper over the cracks of their timid attack.

Rob Brooks writes about Australian football and the A-League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @RobNJBrooks

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