The Socceroos’ World Cup qualification fate hangs in the balance following a disappointing 2-0 loss away to Japan on Thursday evening. Japan’s win was its first ever win over Australia in a World Cup qualifier and means it secures top spot in the group, qualifies for Russia next year, and leaves Australia in a two way tussle with Saudi Arabia to finish in the other automatic qualifying spot.
With just one match day remaining, Australia currently sits in third spot in the group equal on points with the Saudis who have a two goal advantage in goal difference. Australia will be out to score as many goals as possible against Thailand on Tuesday evening, then wait anxiously for the outcome of Saudi Arabia’s final match against Japan at home.
Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou was forced to re-shuffle his line-up against Japan on Thursday due to the withdrawal of star midfielder Aaron Mooy and an injury to striker Tomi Juric. The Socceroos came under pressure early as the Japanese played a direct game putting pressure on the Australian defence in the hope of forcing an error or turnover in possession. The Socceroos nervously withstood the initial high intensity start by the Japanese with holding midfielders Jackson Irvine and Massimo Luongo amongst their better players in the first half. However disaster struck for the visitors just before the break when Japan’s right sided attacker Takumo Asano got in behind Brad Smith to volley home a Nagatomo cross to give Japan the break through.
The Socceroos playing with Robbie Kruse as a lone striker, created very few opportunities throughout the game. In the second half the Japanese defended in numbers and hit fast on the transition. They eventually cracked open the Socceroos defence a second time when Tosuke Ideguchi took possession outside the box and fired home a 20 metre goal in the 82nd minute.
Immediately after the match, Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou commented, “The team we put out there was certainly good enough to get the job done. I’ll take responsibility for the team selection, the way we played, tonight’s result is on me, it’s not on the players or the ones missing. We had our moments, we just never really got control of the game. Particularly in the midfield we had some possession, but we never really threatened as much as we could of. The first goal really killed us, obviously disappointed.”
Meanwhile in other World Cup qualifying matches on Thursday night, Greece was held to a scoreless draw at home to Estonia, whilst Cyprus kept their slim hopes of qualifying with a come-from-behind 3-2 home win over Bosnia. Greece remains in second spot in Group H behind Belgium which it plays on Sunday, whilst Cyprus is in fourth spot, three points behind Greece.