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Australia vs Honduras preview: World Cup play-off

Australia vs Honduras preview: World Cup play-off balanced on a knife-edge as espionage allegations dominate build-up to second leg in Sydney

  • Australia play Honduras in second leg of World Cup play-off on Wednesday
  • The tie is delicately-balanced at 0-0 following last Friday's first leg
  • Winner in Sydney will be 31st of 32 qualifiers for Russia finals next summer
  • The build-up has been dominated by Honduran claims of drone espionage

By Adam Shergold for MailOnline

Published: 16:45 GMT, 14 November 2017 | Updated: 16:45 GMT, 14 November 2017

If Honduras don't upset the odds and beat Australia in Wednesday's all-or-nothing World Cup play-off in Sydney, at least coach Jorge Luis Pinto has got his excuses in early.

The visiting coach was furious when he spotted a drone hovering above their training session at the Olympic Stadium on Monday and accused their hosts of espionage.

'Let's not be innocent. It's espionage in football,' Pinto fumed. 'It just takes some of the merit away from the fair play and the sporting event that will be held.

'It is embarrassing for such an advanced country.'

Jorge Luis Pinto, the Honduras coach, was left furious after spotting a drone hovering over his team's training session ahead of the second leg of their World Cup play-off with Australia

Jorge Luis Pinto, the Honduras coach, was left furious after spotting a drone hovering over his team's training session ahead of the second leg of their World Cup play-off with Australia

The Honduras boss accused Australia of espionage after spotting a drone above training 

The Honduras boss accused Australia of espionage after spotting a drone above training

The Socceroos maintain that the drone was not operated by anyone working for them 

The Socceroos maintain that the drone was not operated by anyone working for them

Pinto expresses his concern to a FIFA official during their training session on Monday

Pinto expresses his concern to a FIFA official during their training session on Monday

AUSTRALIA espía entrenamiento oficial de #Honduras desde un dron; lo que ocasionó el malestar del equipo y delegación hondureña. pic.twitter.com/anCAgHtsMP

— FENAFUTH (@FenafuthOrg) November 13, 2017

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Pinto, following the same tangent, also accused a member of the Honduran press for leaking inside tactical information to the Australians.

But while Honduras may come away with the moral high ground, the odds are stacked in favour of Australia as they bid to become the penultimate nation to book their place at next summer's finals in Russia.

The play-off between Peru and New Zealand the following day will determine the 32nd and final team in the draw at the Kremlin Palace on December 1.

It has been a long and winding road for Ange Postecoglou's Australia team since their qualifying campaign began in Kyrgyzstan back in June 2015.

Since that 2-1 win, they have played in Tajikistan, Jordan, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Iran, Japan, Malaysia and, most recently, Honduras, as they criss-crossed the globe.

Australia's veteran striker Tim Cahill scored the crucial goal against Syria in the last round

Australia's veteran striker Tim Cahill scored the crucial goal against Syria in the last round

Socceroos boss Postecoglou watches on as his side train ahead of their second leg play-off

Socceroos boss Postecoglou watches on as his side train ahead of their second leg play-off

Cahill (centre) leads the Australian squad in training ahead of play-off tie with Honduras

Cahill (centre) leads the Australian squad in training ahead of play-off tie with Honduras

The tie is poised at 0-0 after Australia failed to capitalise on their first-leg dominance 

The tie is poised at 0-0 after Australia failed to capitalise on their first-leg dominance

Add in the home fixtures and they will have played 22 matches in total, but the end is in sight. Just one goal could be enough to earn qualification for a fourth successive World Cup.

The decision to swap the 20-0 wins in the Oceania qualifying phase for the bigger footballing (and logistical) challenge of the Asia region has done wonders for football Down Under.

While the sport still lags behind rugby and Aussie Rules in the nation's hearts, it is at least now making ground.

Their Greek coach Postecoglou, in charge of the Socceroos since 2013, understands the significance of getting to Russia more than anyone.

'It doesn't mean that not qualifying means that the game somehow ceases to exist, it's more about our continued growth,' he said.

The Australia players rue a missed opportunity during the goalless draw in the first leg

The Australia players rue a missed opportunity during the goalless draw in the first leg

Massimo Luongo of Australia competes for the ball with Alfredo Mejia during the first leg

Massimo Luongo of Australia competes for the ball with Alfredo Mejia during the first leg

'We've got to be ambitious about international football, both about wanting to qualify and wanting to do well. Those things can't happen if you don't get the job done.

'This has been the longest qualifying campaign that any nation has played, both in terms of the amount of games and kilometres travelled, you don't want all of that to be wasted.'

It's now even certain that Postecoglou will be in charge in Russia next year but one man determined to be there is Australia's 37-year-old veteran striker Tim Cahill.

The man who scored the extra time winner to overcome Syria in the Asian play-off round last month has shrugged off an ankle injury to make this second leg.

Having been to the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups, the former Millwall and Everton man will certainly feel he has another in him.

Brayan Beckeles of Honduras comes under pressure from Jackson Irvine during the first game

Brayan Beckeles of Honduras comes under pressure from Jackson Irvine during the first game

Honduras remonstrate after a decision goes against them during Friday's match

Honduras remonstrate after a decision goes against them during Friday's match

Honduras, meanwhile, are hoping for the crucial away goal that will take them to their third consecutive World Cup finals and fourth overall.

They finished fourth in the North American qualifying group, but that was enough to eliminate the United States.

Honduras were second best in the first leg in San Pedro Sula last Friday and their passionate fans, who filled the stadium 90 minutes before kick-off, couldn't inspire them to an advantage.

And whether they were victims of espionage or not, Pinto couldn't resist a little decoy move: 'Without a doubt we'll be employing long balls tomorrow. So if the head coach of Australia is watching this press conference he has some insight into the game!'

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