The last time Australia played a game with the same magnitude as their intercontinental play-off second leg against Honduras, Alex Gersbach was at home in the shire watching on the lounge with his father and brother.
But Gersbach will be much closer to the action on Wednesday night for the second leg of Australia’s do or die World Cup qualifier at ANZ Stadium.
The 20-year-old is part of Ange Postecoglou’s squad that will look to match the accomplishment of the 2005 Socceroos side that defeated Uruguay to book Australia’s place at the 2006 World Cup, its first in 32 years.
Australia’s 0-0 draw in San Pedro Sula on Saturday morning (AEDT) leaves the Socceroos in an almost identical position as they were 12 years ago heading into the second leg as they look to qualify for their fourth consecutive tournament. Win and go to Russia next year. Lose – or play out a score draw – and watch the tournament at home.
Now on the cusp of heading to his first World Cup, Gersbach told the Leader from Honduras how that special night against Uruguay had inspired him as an eight-year-old boy.
“That night in 2005 I was at home watching on tv with my dad and brother. I have no idea why we didn't go to the game. But when the penalty went in we were just around everywhere and it was just pure ecstasy,” he said.
“I can't imagine what it would be like as a player. We've worked so hard as a group and it has been really tough, so to overcome that final hurdle would just be amazing.
“It's really strange to be honest. You watch videos of Australia qualifying [for] the World Cup, especially the game in 2005, and you think ‘wow I'm actually involved this time’. It's kind of crazy when you sit back and realise how big these two games actually are.
“And I think it's more just pure excitement. Every Australian can't wait, including us players.”
A Sutherland Sharks junior who played A-League football with Sydney FC, Gersbach now plays professionally in Norway with Rosenborg. The left-sided player has four Socceroos caps and was impressive in Australia’s final group match against Thailand.
Gersbach was an unused substitute in the first leg against Honduras but could be in line to start in Sydney after left wing back Aziz Behich, who was outstanding in San Pedro Sula, played the full 90 minutes on as heavy a pitch as likely to be seen for international football. The hot temperature, sapping humidity and paddock of a playing surface might mean fresh legs are required in Postecoglou’s vital wing back positions.
The Socceroos escaped "The Tomb'' unscathed on Saturday but remain no closer to Russia after the goalless draw at the Estadio Olimpico.
Australia dominated much of match, enjoying the vast bulk of possession and field position but were ultimately unlucky to make the long trip back from central America with either the win or vital away goal their performance deserved.
But if the Socceroos were to take any positives out of the performance it would be just how much they outplayed “Los Catrachos” at one of the most intimidating venues in world football.
Australia were controversially denied a penalty in the first half when the linesman ruled offside after a spot-kick had been awarded. The horrendous pitch thwarted a number of Australian chances, with Honduran goalkeeper Donis Escober a candidate for man of the match.
Australia’s players are beaming with confidence though having claimed a major morale victory and glowing from their lavish trip home. Their chartered flight left immediately after full-time with the rear of the plane turned into a physio's room with massage tables fixed above the back seats.
The timing of the flight gave the Socceroos an additional 24 hours in Sydney than Honduras – who travelled on commercial airlines with several members travelling in economy. But the conditioning team ensured Australia were all but adjusted to the time difference upon their arrival on Sunday meaning there would be almost no jet lag experienced by the players before the second leg.
Australia will also welcome back Mark Milligan and Matthew Leckie from suspension.
Gersbach was left out of the squad for the two-legged qualifier against Syria last month but is back to full fitness and ready to help Australia reach the biggest sporting event on the planet.
“Of course I was disappointed not to be involved in the last squad but there were a number of left-sided players that were doing well at the time. And I hadn't been playing much at Rosenborg so I can't complain much about being left out,” he said.
“I'm over the moon to be back in the squad. You'd expect a sell out crowd at ANZ. It's going to be huge and we need the whole of the country behind us because it's definitely going to be tough.
“Kids from every corner of the globe dream of going to a World Cup. And for me it's one of my ultimate goals as a footballer. I want to represent my country at the World Cup. Obviously it would mean the world to me.”
FIFA World Cup intercontinental play-off second leg
Australia vs Honduras
ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park
Wednesday, kick-off 8pm