Socceroos out to display A-game in Honduras playoff

Tim Cahill is an injury worry for Australia. (AFP)
Updated 10 November 2017
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Socceroos out to display A-game in Honduras playoff

LONDON: Australia have been told to forget their patchy qualifying form and focus on beating Honduras and making it to next year’s World Cup.
That’s the rallying call from the side’s Sharjah-based defender Ryan McGowan who said the Socceroos have the class to beat the Central Americans and book a trip to Russia next summer.
Australia find themselves in the playoff having failed to get out of their Asian qualifying group. The side finished third behind Japan and Saudi Arabia forcing them to come through a playoff with Syria, which they won 3-2 on aggregate, and now this two-leg clash.
But McGowan, who played for the Aussies in the 2014 World Cup, has told his teammates they have the class to come through the tough challenge.
“I’m not going to be the only player to say it’s the biggest thing you can do as a player to represent your country at a World Cup,” he said from San Pedro Sula.
“I was very lucky at the last World Cup to play in that and it’s something that’s driven me since then to get back there and do even better.
“These two games are so important and have so much riding on it, but I really do believe we’ve got enough in the team and enough of everything — skill, power, mental determination — to get over these two games and go to Russia with the bit between our teeth and make an impact.”
Being forced to come through two playoffs was not part of the plan when Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation in 2006. Qualifying through Asia would undoubtedly prove to be tougher than Oceania, but it was assumed that they had the players to qualify and avoid the pain and hassle of playoffs against South or Central American teams. That was the plan, and in 2010 and 2014 it worked out pretty well.
But for 2018 the actual reality of qualifying through Asia hit, and hit hard. Asian qualifying is no walk in the park and Australia had become complacent, taking World Cup qualification for granted.
They enter today’s clash in less than ideal shape. Captain Mile Jedinak returns to the squad after just 99 minutes of action for Aston Villa this season, while influential midfielders Mark Milligan and Mat Leckie are suspended after picking up yellow cards against Syria in their previous playoff.
There’s also the small matter of a certain Tim Cahill carrying an ankle injury from Melbourne City’s loss to Sydney FC last Friday. Arrived a day later than the rest of the team to allow his ankle more time to recover.
That’s just on-field; off the field there is the biggest drama of all — the future of coach Ange Postecoglou.
The 52-year-old’s future has been the subject of furious debate after it emerged just hours after Australia’s win against Syria last month that he would jump ship even if Australia get past Honduras and qualify.
Despite having numerous opportunities to deny the reports, Postecoglou has chosen to remain coy on his future, which, despite what the players say, will no doubt play on their minds leading into the match.
Whatever Postecoglou decides regarding his future, there is no doubt his legacy, despite winning the Asian Cup in 2015, rests on these two games. Becoming the first coach since 2001 to fail to take Australia to a World Cup won’t sit well on his resume.
They might be taking the long road to Russia, one filled with potholes and endless twists and turns, but come this time next week Australia will be hoping it’ll all be worth it.


WHAT WE LEARNED IN NFL WEEK 10: Brilliant Bears and terrific Titans

Updated 14 November 2018
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WHAT WE LEARNED IN NFL WEEK 10: Brilliant Bears and terrific Titans

We are over halfway in the NFL season and getting a better picture of who is in the running for January’s Playoffs. Arab News looks at what we learned from Week 10 of the world’s greatest gridiron league.

BEARS ON THE RISE
Whisper it, but the Chicago Bears could go a long way this season. It is fair to say, Chi-Town’s football team has been a blotch on the city’s sporting record in recent decades. Since the Bears’ defensive masterclass won them a Super Bowl in 1985, the iconic Bulls in the NBA, the rise and rise of the Blackhawks in ice hockey and the White Sox and Cubs winning a World Series have rendered them the poor cousins of Chicago’s sporting scene. But this current crop have really stepped up this season and, after yet another victory this week, find themselves in the unfamiliar position of leading the NFC North division. They might not get to the Big Game, but this Bears team is finally one the city can be proud of.

PENALTIES DECIDE FORTUNES
One of the big factors in this season’s surprise package LA Rams’ success has been their discipline. Coming into Week 10, the Rams had given away just 45 penalties, an average of five per game — second fewest in the league. So, that they gave away 10 infractions this weekend and nearly lost a tight game with the Seahawks, highlights just how important staying on the referee’s good side is to a team with serious Super Bowl ambitions. You can have a quality quarterback, rapid running backs and titanic tight-ends — if the discipline is not there, it will cost you a run at the Super Bowl.

CLEVELAND BROWNS ARE ALIVE
There is life in Cleveland, at last. Not since 2015 have the Browns won three games in a season. And with 6 games left in the season, they could win a fourth of the season for the first time in four years. Their 28-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons this weekend showed that this Browns team is packed-full of talent, but is lacking the right guidance. General Manager John Dorsey should use the highlights of this match in his search for a new head coach, as the Browns did not look like a 3-1-6 team, but needs the right man to guide it to respectability. Meanwhile, the defeat for the Falcons has put them on the brink of becoming also-rans for the Playoffs, they realistically need to win six — perhaps all seven — of their remaining games.

TITANS SHOW US THEIR WORTH
Tennessee have been hovering on the outskirts of Playoff contention all year, and their shock dismantling of the New England Patriots gave as an insight into what this team is really capable of. Mike Vrabel’s defense were all over Tom Brady from the kick-off and relentlessly pressured him all game. They got lucky at times — Josh Gordon’s uncharacteristic dropped passes helped — and made sure they capitalized when they stopped the Patriots offense. This Titans team burst out of the blocks and rushed past the Patriots early, taking a 17-3 lead. It just shows, take the game to the Patriots early and their defensive frailties can be exploited.