All eyes were on Australian talisman Tim Cahill at Stadium Australia, but it was captain Mile Jedinak who provided the inspiration, and the goals, needed to secure the Socceroos’ World Cup qualification.
The midfield general scored a decisive dead-ball hat-trick to clinch a 3-1 victory over Honduras on Wednesday night to book Ange Postecoglou’s side’s place at next summer’s finals in Russia.
Jedinak broke the deadlock with a 54th minute free-kick in the 54th minute with the help of a huge deflection off Honduras substitute Henry Figueroa.
A handball earned Australia a penalty in the 71st minute and a steely-eyed Jedinak stepped up to just squeeze his effort past the outstretched hand of goalkeeper Donis Escobar.
A cynical foul inside the area on Robbie Kruse after he found himself one-on-one earned Jedinak the chance to complete his hat-trick, and he sent his second penalty of the night straight down the middle to secure qualification for Australia’s fourth consecutive World Cup in front of a 77,060 strong crowd in Sydney.
Jedinak bossed the centre of the park, showing just how important he is for the Socceroos with back-to-back matches for the national team after injury had restricted him to only 98 minutes of club football for Aston Villa so far this season.
He helped the Socceroos control the game and possession throughout the match, but they struggled to create anything of note in the first half with Cahill having to drop deep at times to get involved.
Their best chance was a snap-shot from Tom Rogic inside the box towards the end of the first half, with Huddersfield man Aaron Mooy looking threatening from dead-ball situations.
However, it was Jedinak’s deflected free-kick early in the second half that changed the complexion of the tie, just when the Hondurans had begun to push on in search of an invaluable away goal.
He eased any lingering nerves with his second goal before putting the game beyond reach in the 85th minute, with even a late consolation for Honduras not dampening Australian spirits as they secured a 3-1 aggregate win.
The conversation will now turn towards who exactly will appear for Australia in Russia next June. There were questions over the future of coach Postecoglou following failure to qualify directly from the group stages, but he now looks assured in the top job.
Just two players remain from the 2006 World Cup squad which took Australia as far as the last 16 – Cahill and Mark Milligan. With Cahill still a key cog in the Australia machine and Milligan one of the nation’s midfield hard men, the pair look likely to line up for their fourth consecutive World Cup.
The 33-year-old Jedinak, who will be appearing at his third World Cup, is also going to be vital in Russia after his nerveless contribution ensured it was job done for Australia.