Australia booked one of the final tickets to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia as a second-half hat trick by captain Mile Jedinak gave the Socceroos a 3-1 victory over Honduras in Wednesday's second leg of an intercontinental playoff held at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.
Jedinak opened the scoring in the 53rd minute when his free kick from just outside the box was deflected by Henry Figueroa to beat the Honduras goalkeeper (watch below). The 33-year-old Aston Villa player then proceeded to convert two penalty kicks to seal the result and clinch an unexpected hat trick for the defensive midfielder.
How it happened
Following a first-leg scoreless draw in San Pedro Sula on Nov. 10, Australia pushed the game at home and created the best scoring opportunities in the opening half as Honduras focused on a defense-first approach.
Former New York Red Bulls forward Tim Cahill nearly connected on an inswinging free kick in the 13th minute as Honduras 'keeper Donis Escober parried the ball away. And Escober came up big again in minute 37 on a scuffed, first-time shot in the box by Tommy Rogic.
But the ANZ Stadium crowd finally exhaled after the critical deflection on Jedinak's 53rd-minute free kick which Escober looked like he would have easily reached had it not been for his teammate's inadvertent touch.
After a looping Cahill header bounced off the crossbar with Honduras on the ropes, the home team would put the series out of reach on two Jedinak penalty kicks. The first was awarded in the 71st minute after a hand ball by Bryan Acosta in the box and the second came with six minutes remaining as Johnny Palacios took down Robbie Kruse in the box.
Honduras found a consolation goal by Houston Dynamo forward Alberth Elis deep in second-half stoppage time (watch below), but it proved too little, too late for the Catrachos, who did not pose enough of an attacking threat through the course of the match.
How MLS players fared
Houston wingers Romell Quioto (wide left) and Alberth Elis (wide right) played similar positions for Honduras in Sydney and Elis, who missed the first leg due to suspension, was clearly the most dangerous attacking option for the visitors. However, neither player saw much of the ball as Australia dominated proceedings.
Elis, who made only a handful of his patented runs at the Australian defense, would net a consolation strike in the final stages, while Quioto exited in the 75th minute after a generally quiet match.
FC Dallas defender Maynor Figueroa captained Honduras and did all he possible could in an authoritative performance at the center of a five-man back line. He was often the first to challenge Cahill on the many balls sent in his direction.
Elis, Quioto and Oscar Boniek Garcia, who didn't come off the bench in Australia, will next return to Houston to rejoin the Dynamo as they prepare for a Western Conference Championship series against the Seattle Sounders with a trip to MLS Cup 2017 at stake. The first leg takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 21 (9:30 pm ET on FS1, TSN and TVAS), while the second leg follows on Nov. 30 in Seattle.
AUS – Mile Jedinak 53'
AUS – Mile Jedinak 72' (PK)
AUS – Mile Jedinak 85' (PK)
HON – Alberth Elis 94'+
Australia (5-3-2, left to right): #1 Maty Ryan – #16 Aziz Behich, #6 Matthew Jurman, #20 Trent Sainsbury, #8 Bailey Wright, #7 Mathew Leckie – #13 Aaron Mooy, #15 Mile Jedinak (capt.), #5 Mark Milligan (88' #14 James Troisi) – #23 Tommy Rogic (77' #10 Robbie Kruse), #4 Tim Cahill (66' #9 Tomi Juric)
Honduras (5-2-3, left to right): #22 Donis Escober – #7 Emilio Izaguirre (42' #4 Henry Figueroa, 73' #10 Mario Martinez), #5 Ever Alvarado, #3 Maynor Figueroa (capt.), #23 Johnny Palacios, #21 Brayan Beckeles – #6 Bryan Acosta, #20 Jorge Claros – #12 Romell Quioto (75' #11 Eddie Hernandez), #9 Antony Lozano, #17 Alberth Elis
AUS – Matthew Jurman 2'
HON – Maynor Figueroa 19'
AUS – Aaron Mooy 47+'
HON – Jorge Claros 57'
AUS – Mathew Leckie 81'
HON – Johnny Palacios 84'