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Socceroos draw with Japan

A brave Socceroos outfit have earned a point against Japan, following a 1-all draw in their World Cup qualifier. The result means Australia’s World Cup destiny is in their own hands, with the national side needing to secure wins in their remaining two home matches against Jordan and Iraq to guarantee their place in Brazil next year.

The result could have been so much better for the Socceroos after they opened the scoring in the second-half. Tommy Oar’s deflected effort for his first international goal in the 82nd minute looking like giving Australia all three points. Unfortunately the Blue Samurai were awarded a penalty in stoppage time after Matt McKay was adjudged to have handballed in the box.

Keisuke Honda stepped up for the hosts, calmly slotting the resulting spot-kick into the middle of the goal, with goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer helpless to stop it hitting the back of the net. The goal earned the hosts a share of the spoils and ensured Japan was the first country to qualify for football’s 2014 showpiece event.

Despite the disappointment of conceding late on there was much to like about the performance of the Socceroos. Forced to contend with a sea of blue at a sold-out Saitama Stadium, the Aussies put up a great defensive effort in the first-half and looked dangerous on the counter-attack. Both keepers were forced into making some fine saves to ensure the sides went into half-time deadlocked at nil-all.

The high-tempo play continued in the second-half, with Japan’s Manchester United superstar Shinji Kagawa engaging in some enterprising passing and having a lobbed shot hit the crossbar. However the Blue Samurai couldn’t find a way past a resolute Socceroos defence, which held firm despite waves of attack. Captain Lucas Neil and centre-back partner Sasa Ognenovski were immense at the back despite being short of match-fitness.

Speaking after the match, Neil said it was “a bitter pill to swallow to concede a penalty at the death.” However the Socceroos’ captain was optimistic about our chances of securing automatic qualification for the World Cup by finishing in the top-two places of our Asia group. He called on Australia to get behind the national team for their remaining two games to help them qualify for the 2014 tournament.

Unfortunately results elsewhere on the night didn’t help our chances in Group B, after Oman downed Iraq 1-0 in their qualifier. There are a few scenarios in play with a few matches still to be played in the group. However wins in our remaining two matches being played on home soil later this month will guarantee the Socceroos go to Rio next year.

Damien Bellemore

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