SYDNEY – Mile Jedinak led Australia into next year’s World Cup with a deflected free kick and two penalties in Wednesday’s 3-1 intercontinental playoff victory over Honduras.
Jedinak, who missed the latter stages of Australia’s Asian qualifying campaign because of injury, opened the scoring when his free kick curled to the left of the wall and went in off defender Henry Figueroa in the 54th minute, bringing the crowd of 77,060 at Sydney’s Olympic stadium to life.
The Australian captain converted from the spot in the 72nd after referee Nestor Pitana penalized Bryan Acosta for a hand ball and calmly slotted home another penalty in the 85th to ensure Australia qualified for its fourth consecutive World Cup.
“I’ll take them all,” Jedinak said of his goals. “It wouldn’t have mattered who scored. I’m happy to chip in.”
Forward Alberth Elis got a consolation goal for Honduras deep into injury time.
Honduras earned a playoff spot with a 3-2 win over Mexico on a hectic last day of qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean, securing fourth spot and ensuring the U.S. missed out.
Australia had the better opportunities in a 0-0 draw in the first leg last Friday in San Pedro Sula.
But after a frustrating first half, when Tom Rogic created the only real chance with a mistimed shot in the 37th, Australia dominated the second half.
Australia had opportunities to qualify directly for Russia in Asian qualifying but missed out on goal difference to Saudi Arabia in a tight finish in that group.
That forced the Australians into an Asian playoff against Syria, which veteran Tim Cahill sealed with two goals in Sydney last month to set Australia up for the last-ditch home-and-away series against Honduras.
The Australians edged Uruguay on penalties in a playoff in 2005 to qualify for the following year’s World Cup in Germany, and then qualified directly for 2010 and 2014.
Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said his Socceroos “did it the hard way, but we deserve to be there.”
The final word went to the jubilant Jedinak, a veteran midfielder who plays for second-tier Aston Villa in England.
“We got the job done and that’s all that matters — it’s going to be a big 2018,” he said.