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Socceroos happy - and "healthy" - in Honduras

Soccer

The Socceroos might be without a trio of injured stars for their World Cup qualifier with Honduras but Bailey Wright believes they’ve never been stronger.

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The staunch defender has hit the ground running in San Pedro Sula ahead of Saturday’s opening match in the two-legged affair.

For many, it’s a backs-to-the-wall tie, with an understrength Australia facing a formidable home side buoyed by a raucous crowd.

It’s why veteran attacker Tim Cahill called the Central American match-up a tougher assignment than Australia’s last intercontinental playoff, against Uruguay in 2005.

Wright takes a different tack, believing Ange Postecoglou’s preparation has Australia peaking at the right moment.

“As a group, we’re stronger than ever,” he said.

“This is a great opportunity to qualify… a lot of work that has gone in to get us to this point. We’ll do what we set out to do and that’s qualify.

“The team has been pretty consistent. A few changes, a few ins and outs and people with injuries. That’s just the way it goes.

“For us as a group, this is the strongest we’ve been, which is healthy.”

The 22-man squad are now all in camp with the arrival of Nikita Rukavytsya and Alex Gersbach this morning (ACDT).

Mile Jedinak is back in the fold but Mark Milligan, Mat Leckie (suspension) and Robbie Kruse (knee) won’t be coming, removing 170 caps worth of experience from the camp.

Wright believes less experienced Socceroos – such as Josh Risdon, with four national team appearances, or uncapped midfielder Jimmy Jeggo – can use the occasion to kick-start international careers.

“Obviously (the three out are) a loss. They are big characters and big players,” he said.

“We’ve been without Mile. He’s a big boost for us, him coming back. He’s a real leader and a great character.

“We’ve not just prepared 11 people or a squad of 23. We’ve got a squad of 40 that are ready to step in and do the job.

“When important players like that are injured or miss out through suspensions, it’s another opportunity for someone else. That’s how football works.

“Look at how many people that have grabbed those opportunities – it’s no different for anyone right now.”

The “no excuses” approach extends to their training ground, the home of local side Real Espana.

It’s a slow pitch, composed of different types of grass and similar to what they’ll encounter at the Estadio Olympico Metropolitano.

“We’ve faced many different teams in many different climates. We’ve never made excuses,” Wright said.

“Ideally you want to play on a nice pitch.

“That’s not the way it goes and it never does. We just get on with it.”

Star striker Cahill gave a glowing endorsement of Honduras after landing in San Pedro Sula – and encouragingly for his chances of playing in the first leg, Australia’s all-time leading scorer was walking freely on arrival late yesterday.

He was greeted by a crowd of local reporters for whom he is the chief source of Australian fascination.

Ever the statesman, Cahill came with a message of respect contrary to sensationalised media reports coming from outside of the country.

“As players, we respect the country and people, which is most important,” he said.

“What media say is different to what players think.

“I’m happy here in Honduras.

“It is a country I already respect a lot, but we want to get a good result in the match.

“I know Victor Bernardez as a player and he used to play for the national team. For (national team veteran Maynor) Figueroa too, we have the utmost respect.

“We’re coming here to play football. It’s about football and enjoying that occasion, and us to take in the surroundings.”

Locals have been unimpressed with Australian media reports that paint the country as hostile or violent, with a particular distaste for the use of the “murder capital of the world” tag that the city cannot shake.

There’s no disputing San Pedro Sula’s horrific crime rate, with a murder record that until recently made it the world’s most dangerous city.

Honduras’ second-biggest city has a homicide rate of 112 homicides per 100,000 people.

By comparison, Australia’s rate is one homicide per 100,000.

But statistics only tell one side of the story; much of the violence is gang-related and confined to well-known no-go zones.

-AAP

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