SYDNEY – Australia is headed back to the World Cup thanks to the heroics of captain Mile Jedinak, who scored three goals from dead-ball situations to lead his squad to a 3-1 second-leg victory over Honduras in inter-confederation playoff action Wednesday night.
Since the Nov. 10 first-leg of the playoff between CONCACAF side Honduras and Asian Football Confederation squad Australia (played in San Pedro Sula) ended in a scoreless draw, the aggregate result also was 3-1.
The first half at Stadium Australia in Sydney unfolded as planned by visiting head coach Jorge Luis Pinto, with Honduras remaining disciplined and organized on the defensive end and relying on defenders Emilio Izaguirre (who left the game with an injury prior to intermission) and Ever Alvarado to closely mark Australian striker Mathew Leckie, who had returned from a yellow-card suspension.
The Central Americans built a veritable spider web in their half to restrict the mobility of midfielders Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic and placed their hopes for an all-important away goal on speedy counterattacks by forwards Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto.
The Socceroos, meanwhile, had the overwhelming advantage in ball possession and were ultimately rewarded for their greater offensive ambition, although lady luck was the real author of the opening goal.
Jedinak, who took the free-kick opportunity in the 54th minute after Rogic was pushed down just outside the penalty box, miscued a shot that curled to the left of the wall of defenders, ricocheted off Honduran defender Henry Figueroa (not part of the wall) and entered the back of the net past goalkeeper Donis Escober.
The second goal then was marred by controversy, with Jedinak converting a penalty kick in the 72nd minute after the referee called midfielder Bryan Acosta for a hand ball despite the vehement objections of the Honduran squad.
The Socceroos later went up 3-0 when Jedinak converted a second penalty shortly after Robbie Kruse was fouled from behind by Johnny Palacios in minute 85.
Honduras finally pulled one back in stoppage time on a goal by Elis at point-black range following a corner kick, but it was much too little too late.
With the win, the Australians have qualified for their third consecutive World Cup – to be played next year in Russia – and booked their fifth appearance overall in soccer’s showcase event.