(Reuters) - Australia left Honduras with a 0-0 draw in the first leg of their World Cup playoff on Friday and the visitors will be the happier of the two sides despite missing chances that would have secured a big advantage for the return leg in Sydney.
Australia’s clearest opportunity came after 34 minutes when striker Tomi Juric pulled his shot wide with only goalkeeper Donis Escober to beat after producing some lovely skill to escape his marker on the edge of the box.
Eight minutes into the second half Juric was again in the right place at the right time but watched Escober acrobatically turn his close-range header over the bar.
“It was there for the taking really. Looking back now it is a bit disappointing we didn’t come away with the win,” Australia defender Trent Sainsbury said in a pitchside interview.
Australia coach Ange Postecoglou was also left confused after Italian referee Daniele Orsato appeared to award a penalty to the visitors in the first half after a goalmouth clash between the keeper and Bailey Wright but then cancelled it after consulting with his assistant.
“Somewhere in the Italian-Australian translation we kind of left it there and I didn’t get a resolution,” said Postecoglou, who had sought clarification from the referee at halftime.
The coach was more concerned about his team’s finishing as they look for a fourth consecutive World Cup appearance.
“We just aren’t getting our rewards and it’s still a part that is missing from our game,” Postecoglou added.
“Our general play is great, we work hard and we are just missing that clinical edge. But overall I couldn’t be happier.”
The capacity crowd in San Pedro Sula had to wait until the 82nd minute for the home team’s best chance when substitute Carlos Costly fired straight at keeper Mat Ryan.
Neither team were able to produce much football on what was an atrocious pitch that cut up from the very first minute and made skilful football difficult.
The scrappy nature of the intercontinental playoff was summed up by the eight yellow cards handed out over a punishing 90 minutes.
Although denied a goal, Australia will head home favourites to qualify for next year’s World Cup finals in Russia after Wednesday’s return leg in Sydney.
“Now we have a big job at hand and we know we have got to get the result at home,” Juric said.
“Without a doubt we need the crowd as a 12th man.”
Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Ken Ferris / Ian Ransom