Game 1: Honduras (+100) vs Australia (+320), Draw (+225)
The Australians fly to Honduras (Friday, November 10th) for the first leg of the CONCACAF-AFC playoff, and they will be far from their best when they take to Morazan Stadium in San Pedro Sula.
Three crucial players — Mark Milligan, Robbie Kruse and Mathew Leckie — will be absent for the first leg, and, most notably, Socceroos star Tim Cahill is still nursing an ankle injury. The 37-year-old veteran (38 next month) has joined the squad in San Pedro Sula, but it’s unclear whether he’ll take to the field. Even if he does, he won’t be at 100%.
With Cahill approaching retirement, Australia is need of new talent. There are a few promising young players rising through the ranks — Tomi Juric (26), Mathew Leckie (26), and Tom Rogic (24) are a few names to watch — but when the going gets tough, it’s always Cahill who saves the day.
It was Cahill’s two goals against Syria in the second leg that advanced Australia to the CONCACAF-AFC Play-off. Without him, Australia would have already failed to qualify for Russia 2018.
Honduras advanced to the inter-confederation play-offs under the unlikeliest of circumstances. Heading into the final round of the CONCACAF hexagonal, they were on track for an early elimination with a difficult match against conference champions Mexico still to come.
Then, in spectacular fashion, they came back from a goal down to defeat Mexico 3-2 while the USMNT imploded against an already-eliminated Trinidad and Tobago. And just like that, the Hondurans were through to the play-offs.
Honduras isn’t the most exciting nation to watch, and their approach can be a little uninspiring at times. They’re happy to stall in order to guard a one-nil lead, and they’re unafraid to employ some unsavory tactics in order to win.
With their best starting 11, Australia should be able to handle Honduras. But without both Cahill and Leckie, all they have left up front is Tomi Juric. Stripped of two of their top goalscorers and playing in front of a crowd that hates them, the Socceroos are in for a rough time in Honduras.
Pick: Honduras (+100)
Odds to Qualify for Russia 2018
Win or lose in Honduras, the Socceroos will fly back to Australia for the second leg where they will be the favorites to win. Mathew Leckie will be back from suspension and there’s a good chance Tim Cahill will have completely recovered from his ankle issues.
Australia did not lose a single home game over the AFC Third Round and they have overcome nations tougher than Honduras to get to where they are. When they hosted the Asian Cup in 2015, the Aussies went all the way to claim their first title. There’s a marked difference in their performance when they have the home-field advantage, and with a full-strength squad, they should be able to get the job done.
Pick: Australia (-125)
Over/Under total goals: 2.5
Given some of the chaotic score lines we’ve seen so far — Honduras vs Mexico, 3-1; Australia vs Saudi Arabia, 3-2; USA vs Honduras, 6-0 — there’s a good chance we’ll see more than two goals in aggregate over two legs.
Neither nation has a particularly sturdy defense so we can’t rule out a blowout in either direction. Don’t expect to see some world-class football over the two legs, but we could be in for some very exciting moments.
Pick: Over (2.5)