Wednesday 13 June 2012

Belter in Brisbane as Japan draw with Australia



Japan maintained their superiority at the head of Group B in the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2014 World Cup with a pulsating 1-1 draw away to Australia at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Tuesday evening.

After a goalless first half, the Samurai Blue seized the initiative either side of a red card for Socceroos midfielder Mark Milligan to open the scoring through Yuzo Kurihara on 65 minutes. However, the home side hit back from the spot just five minutes later – Luke Wilkshire converting after Atsuto Uchida was penalised – and Japan’s chances of finding a winner were effectively ended when Kurihara himself was dismissed late on.

Alberto Zaccheroni was forced into making a single change from the side that had collected nine goals with no reply in their previous home games against Oman and Jordan, with Kurihara slotting into central defence in place of the injured Maya Yoshida. Australia had endured a gruelling and ultimately disappointing scoreless draw in Oman last Friday, and brought in Tim Cahill for Harry Kewell up front.

The hosts quickly took control of the game with a high-intensity, direct style of football that continually pushed the Japanese defence deep into its own half. A long ball from Sasa Ognenovski sent Cahill through after five minutes, but Eiji Kawashima did well to save both his initial effort and the follow-up shot from Wilkshire.

Japan created a few half-chances from set pieces but remained under pressure for much of the opening half hour. Alex Brosque went closest to opening the scoring for Australia after Lucas Neill had lobbed the ball over Kawashima, but the Shimizu S-Pulse forward was denied on the goalline by Uchida’s block.

Zaccheroni’s men were able to stem the tide thereafter by adopting a higher line and pressing more boldly as a team. This allowed them to exploit their numerical advantage in midfield and begin working the flanks. Yuto Nagatomo perhaps ought to have done better when his low ball across the six-yard box failed to find a blue shirt, but Japan were at least looking more composed and started the second period as the better team.

Their hopes were given a significant boost ten minutes after the restart when Milligan was shown an extremely harsh second yellow card for a seemingly accidental clash with Uchida.

Japan took the lead soon afterwards from a short corner routine – Keisuke Honda playing a 1-2 with Makoto Hasebe and skilfully jinking along the by-line to play the ball low beyond Mark Schwarzer and into the path of the unmarked Kurihara at the far post.

To their real credit, Australia immediately came back with great energy, committing players forward to win a corner from which they were confusingly awarded a penalty when Uchida was adjudged to have impeded the unprotesting Brosque. Wilkshire calmly fired the ball into the centre of the goal as Kawashima dived low to his left.

The bizarre circumstances surrounding the equaliser seemed to unsettle Japan, and the ten men could have taken the lead following another corner soon afterwards when Ognenovski’s shot struck the crossbar.

The visitors gradually rediscovered their rhythm, but were unable to create any real opportunities to force their way back in front and lost their man advantage in the last minute of the 90 when Kurihara was shown his second yellow for an innocuous collision with Brosque.

An unconventional performance from Saudi referee Khalil Al-Ghamdi was completed when Japan were awarded a free kick deep into added time, only for the final whistle to be blown as soon as the defensive wall had been assembled.

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Speaking after the game, Zaccheroni appeared satisfied with the point in what was, on paper, the most difficult fixture Japan should face throughout the qualifying process.

“This was a game that Australia felt they needed to win, and they showed their physical strength, experience, and canniness throughout,” said the Italian. “But Japan did well to deal with this. We had a difficult period at the beginning of the game, but we overcame it to control the proceedings ourselves.

“It took a penalty for us to concede our first goal of this round, but nonetheless, I think our players fought very well in what was difficult away territory.”

Japan now stand atop Group B with seven points from three matches. Their next fixture is on 11 September at home to Iraq, who are second on just two points, ahead of Australia on goals scored, with one game in hand.

South Korea look to be in control of Group A after following up last Friday’s 4-1 win in Qatar with a 3-0 home victory over Lebanon; Kim Bo-Kyung of Cerezo Osaka netting twice.


World Cup qualifying results – Asia, final round
Group A

(3 June)
Uzbekistan 0-1 Iran
Lebanon 0-1 Qatar

(8 June)
Lebanon 1-1 Uzbekistan
Qatar 1-4 South Korea

(12 June)
South Korea 3-0 Lebanon
Iran 0-0 Qatar

Group B
(3 June)
Japan 3-0 Oman
Jordan 1-1 Iraq

(8 June)
Japan 6-0 Jordan
Oman 0-0 Australia

(12 June)
Australia 1-1 Japan
Iraq 0-0 Oman

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