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World Cup spy: Honduras accuses Aussies of clumsy espionage

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SYDNEY (AP) Jorge Luis Pinto has accused Australia of a clumsy espionage attempt after a drone hovered over his Honduras squad’s practice session ahead of the return leg of their World Cup playoff.

The first leg last Friday ended in a 0-0 draw, leaving a spot at next year’s World Cup at stake Wednesday at Sydney’s Olympic stadium.

The Australian squad flew directly home from Honduras on a charter flight brimming with rehabilitation equipment for the players and landed on Sunday, a day ahead of Pinto’s squad.

The Hondurans were upset when officials saw a drone flying over their practice session late Monday, and posted a video of the drone on the team’s Twitter account with the message: “Selection of Honduras upset by Australian espionage with a Drone.”

Pinto didn’t back away from the claims at his match-eve news conference, saying he didn’t accept the explanation from stadium staff that it was an accidental case of a father and his child playing with the drone in a nearby park.

“Let’s not be innocent. It’s espionage in football,” Pinto said. “Just like VAR (Video Assistant Referee) has made it into football, drones have made their way into espionage.

“It just takes some of the merit away from the fair play and the sporting event that will be held tomorrow.”

Pinto said it was “embarrassing for such an advanced country” and added that the Socceroos had checked “every bathroom, every box at the stadiums where they trained” in San Pedro Sula to ensure there was no spying on their own sessions.

Football Federation Australia said it had nothing to do with the drone.

Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said he wasn’t getting distracted by the claims, and was focused only on getting the Socceroos to a fourth consecutive World Cup.

“There was a fair bit of drama around the first game, but we stayed well out of it,” Postecoglou said. “Ultimately, it’s all pretty irrelevant when the game kicks off tomorrow night. It’s all about those 90 minutes and anything said beforehand is meaningless.”

It has been a long campaign for both squads. Australia went through the last round of Asian qualifying with just one loss from 10 games, yet still missed out on one of the four direct entries to Russia on goals difference.

A lack of finish in front of the goals was evident again in the Asian playoff against Syria, which the Australians won courtesy of Tim Cahill’s two goals in Sydney to reach the intercontinental playoff.

Honduras finished fourth in qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean, securing a spot in the playoff at the expense of the U.S.

Australia failed to convert two clear chances to score in San Pedro Sula last Friday, but Postecoglou said he was content to come back to Australia on level terms. Cahill, who didn’t play in the first game because of an ankle injury, is fit and ready for selection, and Mark Milligan and Matt Leckie are available again after being suspended for the series opener.

Postecoglou has foreshadowed changes for the return match and so has Pinto, saying there could be up to three changes for Honduras with veteran skipper Maynor Figueroa and pacy winger Alberth Elis coming back.

Pinto said Figueroa would add some field presence and composure to his team, and Elis could create space out wide.

The Honduras coach didn’t elaborate too much further on what tactics he’d use, but had a tongue-in-cheek poke at Postecoglou on the theme of surveillance.

“Without a doubt we’ll be employing long balls tomorrow,” he said. “So if the head coach of Australia is watching this press conference he has some insight into the game!”

The Sydney news conference was broadcast on TV in Honduras, and Pinto was asked if he had a message for the team’s fans.

“Just as we faced situations against Mexico and El Salvador, which were tough, we always made it through,” he said. “Tomorrow is not going to be the exception. We’ll make it through.”

Australia puts in dominating effort, but settle for draw against Honduras

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The Socceroos will surely be frustrated to not have come away with a goal (or several) on Friday, and now 90 more minutes will determine which nation goes to the World Cup.

[ MORE: Senegal reaches World Cup after win over South Africa ]

Honduras and Australia settled for a 0-0 draw at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, despite the latter dominating the game’s chances.

Tomi Juric was a threat throughout the match, and had his header in the 54th minute gone anywhere other than straight at goalkeeper Donis Escober the AFC side would’ve gone ahead.

The Socceroos had several big opportunities to break the deadlock in the first stanza, but none better than when Tomi Juric found himself in on goal in the 34th minute.

Unfortunately for the striker, Juric scuffed his left-footed attempt wide of goal, keeping the match scoreless as the teams moved towards halftime.

Both sides came out a bit nervy in the opening minutes, and Australia nearly used that to its advantage in the 12th minute when Massimo Luongo forced an important save out of Escober.

The hosts were held to just one shot on target in the match, as Australia held strong defensively through 45 minutes.

The draw keeps Honduras’ unbeaten run in San Pedro Sula alive though, with Los Catrachos not having suffered defeat at home in their last six matches (since losing to Panama on Nov. 11, 2016).

Honduras and Australia will meet again on Nov. 15 in Sydney to decide which nation advances to Russia.

Despite Honduras’ lack of chances, a win or scoring draw (1-1, 2-2, etc.) will put Los Catrachos through to the World Cup on Wednesday.

WATCH LIVE — Honduras, Australia duel in WC playoff first leg

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Only one country will advance, and Friday’s matchup in San Pedro Sula will likely dictate a large say in which team that is.

[ WATCH LIVE: Honduras vs. Australia on Telemundo ]

Honduras will host Australia from the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano on Friday at 5 p.m. ET, as the CONCACAF and AFC nations vie for a spot in Russia next summer.

The Aussies reach this stage of qualifying after narrowly knocking out Syria, 3-2 on aggregate, in an AFC playoff last month, while Honduras finished fourth-place in CONCACAF to guarantee themselves this opportunity at qualification.

Previously, Australia has qualified for four World Cups, including the past three editions of the tournament.

Meanwhile, Honduras is seeking its fourth trip to FIFA’s greatest competition. Los Catrachos have never won a match at the World Cup, though, and scored just three goals in their previous three appearances.

World Cup playoff dates set for Honduras-Australia, Peru-New Zealand

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The interconfederation playoffs set to determine two more places in the 2018 World Cup have dates and locations.

While UEFA has to wait for Tuesday for its playoff draws, the schedule is in place for CONCACAF vs. AFC, and CONMEBOL versus Oceania.

[ VIDEO: Jermaine Jones’ fiery USMNT diatribe ]

And, yes, each of these posts carries a reminder that the U.S. will not headed for Russia, and stings us just as much as you.

Honduras (CONCACAF) vs. Australia (AFC)

Nov. 10 at San Pedro Sula
Nov. 15 at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium

Peru (CONMEBOL) vs. New Zealand (OFC)

Nov. 11 in Wellington, NZ
Nov. 15 at Lima’s Estadio Nacional

Watch Live: Final group stage matches at U-17 World Cup

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The final knockout round spots remain up for grabs on Saturday, the last day of group stage play at the U-17 World Cup.

[ LIVE: Watch U-17 World Cup, here ] 

France, England, and Iraq have qualified already, while the remaining five nations all have a chance to advance depending on the day’s results.

Crucially, Mexico and Chile tangle at 10:30 a.m. ET in the hopes of avoiding the group’s cellar.

Here’s a look at Wednesday’s schedule. You can live stream every game through Telemundo Deportes.


Group E

Japan vs. New Caledonia — 7:30 a.m. ET
France vs. Honduras — 7:30 a.m. ET

Group F

Mexico vs. Chile — 10:30 a.m. ET
England vs. Iraq — 10:30 a.m. ET