OPINION: Socceroos face battle in 'hell'
ON SATURDAY morning the Australian football team butt heads with Honduras in the first of two games to decide who qualifies for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Kick-off in Australian time is roughly about 8am, there won't be much fanfare, but this is something Australian football fans will be used to. Late nights of watching European games are the norm and odd times of viewing are the norm.
Whatever the result after this first game, I bet my money the result will set up a heated and delightful return leg at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Wednesday night.
The games against Honduras represent many things for football fans of various degrees, whether you are the casual follower or the die-hard.
On the surface, the games are simply a step to the biggest party in the world - the World Cup.
The fact the game will appear on free-to-air television at 7am is a real coup for the sport, making it more accessible for the general public and the casual observer.
Deeper, the game represents two completely different universes colliding - that of the humble battler Australian football mentality and Latin American flair and flamboyance.
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The atmosphere within the stadium in Honduras, the Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano, will be a completely foreign world and will provide for an outstanding experience on its own, if only through the television.
Nicknamed, "The Tomb”, the venue has been a bastion for the Honduras team, with just four losses at home in the past decade.
"The Tomb” is an apt name. Honduras fans are notorious for their passion, with many of the supporters painting their faces and wearing masks which resemble the dead.
Central American cultures often honour death and the dead, and from the outside it can create an intimidating impact at face value.
Former Socceroos boss Holger Osieck recounted his time at the helm of Canada, when the North American nation faced Honduras.
"At times it's hell, you cannot imagine what happens there,” he said.
In contrast, as Australians, we are guilty of having a very passive sporting support culture.
Australian authorities, for example, have struggled to understand why A-League fans refuse to sit down during games, in contrast to supporters of other codes who choose to sit quietly and chew their food.
It has taken years for our authorities to come to grips with what it means to be a football fan - active support is integral to the game. A-League teams such as those in Sydney and Melbourne lead the way.
The national team supporters, however, have never been able to replicate that supporter passion.
In Australia, foreign teams have performed well, perhaps partly because the atmosphere is just not as intimidating as elsewhere - our lack of passionate support is a stone in our shoe.
My heart wants Australia, ranked 43rd, to win out over their 69th-ranked opposition.
My gut tells me Honduras will handle the occasion better. Their players are hardened by pressure-cooker games of the do-or-die Central and North American qualifying competition.
If Australia lose, there will be a call for Australian self-reflection and internal reform, but that's an opinion for another day. This game will be epic.
Australia take on Honduras at 7am Saturday morning, with the return leg scheduled for 7pm Wednesday night.