IT will have been the longest path any nation has ever taken to the World Cup.
And Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou has implored his road warriors not to let the past 29 months of hard work go to waste as they prepare to meet their World Cup destiny at ANZ Stadium tonight.
Postecoglou has declared his entire squad fit and available to start in the second leg of its intercontinental playoff against Honduras, which includes star forward Tim Cahill and key winger Robbie Kruse.
WHAT’S THAT? DRONE SPARKS SPYING CONTROVERSY
After 32 years of heartbreak preceding its appearance at Germany 2006, Australia has now made three consecutive World Cups for the first time.
Success against the Central Americans will make that four on the bounce, following an arduous 22-game campaign that started with a 2-1 win in Bishkek against Kyrgyzstan on June 16, 2015 — 884 days ago.
And while he says failure to make it to Russia will not be a fatal blow for the sport, Postecoglou said the rewards on offer for success are huge.
“It’s very important because you want to be in the biggest tournament in the world,” Postecoglou said.
“It’s a reward for the whole organisation — the players and the staff — for all the hard work they’ve been through.
“This has been the longest World Cup campaign taken on by any nation both in the amount of games and kilometres travelled, you don’t want all of that to mean nothing.
“For the game, it’s always important that you’re there when the World Cup is played.
“We saw Italy miss out and you realise the impact that has.
“But it doesn’t mean that not qualifying means that the game ceases to exist. It’s more about that continued growth.
“And as I’ve said all along, we’ve got to be really ambitious in the way that we approach international football and wanting to qualify, but also wanting to do well, at the World Cup.
“But all those kinds of things can’t happen unless you get the job done and that’s our focus for tomorrow night.”
Having inspected the ANZ Stadium pitch, Postecoglou said “it’s not as good as it was a month ago” against Syria, but said it would still suit the attacking game plan he wants his side to follow.
After it secured a 0-0 draw against the Hondurans in San Pedro Sula on Saturday morning, the Australians are huge favourites to do the job on home soil tonight.
And the hosts will stride on to the Homebush ground backed by a formidable home record that has seen it lose just one of its last 28 competitive games on Australian soil — a loss to South Korea in Brisbane in the group stage of the 2015 Asian Cup.
In the other 27 competitive games here since April 2009, the Socceroos have won 24 and drawn three.
“We’ve traditionally had a great home record,” Postecoglou said.
“I think part of that is because so many of our players play abroad, playing at home takes extra significance for them because they rarely get to do it.
“Their club football is played on the other side of the world, so the opportunity to play in front of Australian supporters and family and friends, it does give our national team a lift.
“And in terms of the conditions, that makes a difference as well, because you know when you play away from home you’re up against it in every aspect.
“We’ve used that pretty well in the past. From what I understand there’s going to be over 70,000 here, which is going to be a great atmosphere and I’m sure the players will enjoy playing in that environment.”
Changes are expected on Wednesday night, with fresh legs expected to be implemented.
Mark Milligan and Mathew Leckie, suspended for the first leg, are among those expected to come in, while Tom Rogic only played a cameo role in Honduras and is also fresh.
And while Postecoglou was keeping his selection cards close to his chest, he was adamant Cahill — who hurt his ankle playing for Melbourne City 12 days ago — is fit.
“He’s ready to go from the start,” he said.
“If he’s limping he’s doing it in his room, he’s hiding it from me.
“He’s ready to go, as are all of them.
“At this stage, knock on wood, everyone is fit and available and everyone is wanting to start which is great.”
THE (LONG) ROAD TO RUSSIA
- The Socceroos’ path to the 2018 World Cup
- Game 1. June 2015
- def Kyrgyzstan 2-1, Bishkek (Jedinak 2, Oar 68)
- 2. September 2015
- def Bangladesh 5-0, Perth (Leckie 6, Rogic 8, 20, Burns 29, Mooy 61)
- 3. September 2015
- def Tajikistan 3-0, Dushanbe (Milligan 57, Cahill 73, 90+1)
- 4. October 2015
- lost to Jordan 2-0, Amman
- 5. November 2015
- def Kyrgyzstan 3-0, Canberra (Jedinak 40, Cahill 50, Amirov O.G 69)
- 6. November 2015
- def Bangladesh 4-0, Dhaka (Cahill 6, 32, 37, Jedinak 43)
- 7. March 2016
- def Tajikistan 7-0, Adelaide (Luongo 3, Jedinak 13, Milligan 57, Burns 67, 87, Rogic 70, 72)
- 8. March 2016
- def Jordan 5-1, Sydney (Cahill 24, 44, Mooy 39, Rogic 53, Luongo 69)
- 9. September 2016
- def Iraq 2-0, Perth (Luongo 58, Juric 64)
- 10. September 2016
- def UAE 1-0, Abu Dhabi (Cahill 75)
- 11. October 2016
- drew with Saudi Arabia 2-2, Jeddah (Sainsbury 45, Juric 71)
- 12. October 2016
- drew with Japan 1-1, Melbourne (Jedinak 52)
- 13. November 2016
- drew with Thailand 2-2, Bangkok (Jedinak 9, 65)
- 14. March 2017
- drew with Iraq 1-1, Tehran (Leckie 40)
- 15. March 2017
- def UAE 2-0, Sydney (Irvine 7, Leckie 78)
- 16. June 2017
- def Saudi Arabia 3-2, Adelaide (Juric 7, 36, Rogic 64)
- 17. August 2017
- lost to Japan 2-0, Saitama
- 18. September 2017
- def Thailand 2-1, Melbourne (Juric 69, Leckie 86)
- 19. October 2017
- drew with Syria 1-1, Melaka (Kruse 40)
- 20. October 2017
- def Syria 2-1 (A. E. T), Sydney (Cahill 13, 109)
- 21. November 2017
- drew 0-0 with Honduras, San Pedro Sula
- 22. Wednesday night
- v Honduras, Sydney