Righty-ho, with that, I’ll call it a night. Disappointment for the Socceroos, but they’ve still won nine points from their opening four matches of this stage of qualification, and their destiny is still in their own hands. All eyes turn now to the big game against Saudi Arabia on 11 November. Until then.
And here’s goalscorer Ajdin Hrustic:
“We’re devastated. We did drop three points here. If we’d come off with a 1-1 draw you’d have accepted it.
“We’re going to close this chapter now. We’re going to keep going. I’m 100% sure we’ll finish on top if we keep playing the way we’re playing.”
And goalkeeper Mat Ryan:
“It hurts. It always hurts when you lose but to concede a late goal... but that’s football. I can’t fault the effort of the boys. We stayed positive.
“It would have been great to keep momentum and to keep going. It’s important now to digest it and respond. We’ll regroup and go again in November.”
Here’s Graham Arnold:
“It was a great spectavle to watch - both teams had a go at each other. At the end of the day we were a bit unlucky, we hit a post and conceded a deflected goal at the end.
“When there’s a crowd it gives home teams energy. We played some great football, intelligent football. But at the end of the day it wasn’t meant to be.”
So, coach Hajime Moriyasu lives to fight another day. Victory for Japan gets his side right back into the Group B mix - back to within three points of Australia. Saudi Arabia, who play China later, now have the chance to go top of the group and possibly open up a three-point lead over the Socceroos.
Next month’s game against the Saudis (hopefully in Sydney) now looms as a huge one for Graham Arnold’s side.
It had to happen at some stage, and perhaps it’s no surprise that the Socceroos’ 11-match unbeaten streak came to an end against their old rivals Japan (who else?), but this game could really have gone either way after Hrustic blasted home the equaliser. Would a point apiece have been a fair result? Perhaps, although Japan enjoyed the better chances, and had they been more clinical in front of goal, the game could have been put to bed much earlier. A draw would certainly have been a good result for the Socceroos in the end, but a calamitous sequence that ended with Aziz Behcich putting into his own goal put paid to that.
Full-time: Japan 2-1 Australia
90+5 mins: There goes the whistle! Japan players celebrate! Australia players fall to the floor in disappointment. The Socceroos’ winning streak is finally brought to an end!
90+4 mins: One final chance for the Socceroos now as they win a free-kick on the halfway line. Up it goes, Souttar’s up again but he can’t get there. And that should be that.
90+3 mins: Time is running out for Australia. But here’s Grant with a long throw into the Japan area... Souttar is pulled up for a raised arm and the big defender goes into the referee’s book.
90+1 mins: Mabil goes down awfully heavily on the far side under the challenge of Sakai. He’s up soon enough though, and play gets back under way.
90 mins: Four minutes of added time indicated on the fourth official’s board. Still time for one last twist to this tale?
89 mins: One last throw of the dice for Australia as Ikonomidis and Grant come on for Karacic and Boyle.
86 mins: Utter chaos in the Australian box there. And utter disappointment for the Socceroos.
GOAL: Japan 2-1 Australia (Behich og 85)
85 mins: Calamity for Australia! Asano’s touch is perfect as he brings the ball down before shooting on goal. His effort take a deflection off Sainsbury and causes all sorts of problems for Ryan, who can only palm the ball onto the far post. Behich tries to clear but only succeeds in turning the ball into his own net. Japan lead again!
84 mins: The ref gets in the way for the second time tonight, to Australia’s advantage. His whistle blows and Japan make another two changes - Morita and Nagatomo depart, Shibasaki and Nakayama enter the fray.
82 mins: Sainsbury, of all players, makes a storming run forward now. Eventually he runs out of steam and he gives up the ball before heading back to the more familiar surrounds of his own half.
81 mins: Time for another Socceroos change - off goes Rogic, on comes Jimmy Jeggo.
80 mins: Another chance for Japan as Furuhashi wriggles through before Asano lets fly with a decent effort. Ryan saves again! Thrilling stuff in Saitama!
79 mins: Things are opening up now, with just over 10 minutes remaining for either side to find a winner. Both are more than capable.
78 mins: Japan make another change now as Asano comes on to replace Liverpool’s Minamino.
75 mins: Mat Ryan comes to Australia’s rescue as he pulls off a brilliant double save! The keeper is forced into action after some sloppy out of defence - prompted by his own poor pass out - gifts the ball to Japan.
72 mins: Twenty minutes or so for the Socceroos to find a winner and preserve their incredible winning streak. It would really be something if can.
70 mins: What an absolute belter that was from Hrustic. He leathered it home to give Gonda in the Japan goal no chance at all. And credit must be given to the youngster, who kept his nerve despite the shenanigans that preceded the free-kick.
GOAL! Japan 1-1 Australia (Hrustic 69)
69 mins: Oof! What a strike! Well worth the wait! Hrustic blasts the Socceroos onto level terms with a thunderbolt from the free-kick, in off the underside of the bar!
68 mins: This is a bit of a palaver. The Japanese wall isn’t getting back 10 yards, there’s a bit of shouting as the ref tries to sort it out.
67 mins: Scrap that! The penalty decision has been overturned by VAR! NO PENALTY. It’ll be a free-kick instead, right on the edge of the box after all! Morita was carded for the original offence, by the way.
66 mins: No! It’s a penalty! The challenge was just inside the box! The Socceroos will have a chance to level things up from the spot. Martin Boyle is standing over it...
65 mins: Boyle bursts clear down the Australia right. He pulls the ball back towards the onrushing Hrustic who is brought down by Morita right on the edge of the box!
64 mins: The resulting free-kick is rather wasted by Japan; Ryan is able to claim the ball into the box under no pressure at all.
63 mins: Behich has his name taken - the first booking of the match - for a tug if Ito’s shirt as the Japanese sprinted clear.
62 mins: Duke gets an early first touch as he chests down a long ball forward. He should be able to make his presence felt in the Japan defence.
61 mins: And a double change for Australia - Mitch Duke and Awer Mabil on, Mooy and Taggart off.
61 mins: Looks like Japan are going to make the first change of the night with Kyogo Furuhashi readying to come on. Yes, on comes the Celtic man, as Osako departs.
59 mins: Tom Rogic! Ooh, he should at least hit the target there. Instead he blazes well over the bar after a rare shooting opportunity presented itself.
58 mins: Rogic tries to dink a cute ball through for Mooy, but it’s slightly overhit and what was a promising move forward breaks down.
57 mins: Hrustic is cutting a frustrated figure at the moment as a throw-in decision goes against him.
55 mins: Minamino wants something here - he reckons he was brought down in the box as he strained to reach a cross. Nothing doing immediately.
54 mins: It’s a good delivery and, with Ryan in two minds as to whether to come for it or not, Sakai gets his head to it but the ball flies over the bar! He should probably have done better there.
53 mins: Hrustic is called for a foul on Morita. He throws his arms up but can have no complaints really. A chance now for Japan to whip a dangerous ball into the Australian box.
51 mins: Yoshida makes an uncharacteristic error with a weak back pass. Gonda is alert enough to get there before Taggart though and he clears his lines comfortably enough.
50 mins: This is a decent opening five minutes of the second half for the Socceroos though. Rogic slings a ball over to Mooy, who jinks this way and that before unleashing an effort from 25 yards out. Not a bad effort, but wide of the mark. Encouraging signs for Australia.
49 mins: Karacic wins a free-kick on the near touchline, and Hrustic has a chance to whip a ball into the Japanese box. He delivers it with an inswinging left-footer, but again it doesn’t clear the first man and the ball is headed clear.
48 mins: Behich looks to slip Boyle in, but the full-back’s ball is hit too hard and long, leaving Boyle no chance of reaching it.
47 mins: Almost immediately, Mooy’s pass is underhit and Japan take possession. Not the ideal start to the half.
Second half under way
46 mins: Here we go then. We’re up and running again at Saitama Stadium now the Japanese team have broken from their huddle. No changes to either side to report at this stage.
“Hi Mike.” Hi Tony from Nottingham. “My Japanese wife and I are eagerly waiting the next update after what seems an excellent start for the Japanese. As soon as the game is over we’ll be on our way to London for the England vs Hungary game and the journey will be made a lot easier if you can somehow conjure up a win for her country. Last week’s loss against Saudi Arabia didn’t help as I left for Andorra leaving her working as I took the jolly.”
Indeed it has been a decent first half for Japan, especially given the pressure the team were under in the build-up. Australia with it all to do over the next 45 minutes.
Japan lead at the break thanks to Ao Tanaka’s eighth-minute strike and on the whole they’re good for that lead - they had more going forward than the Socceroos, even though they might have lacked a cutting edge up front on occasion. Australia though, have goals in them too. Graham Arnold might want to stress at half-time the importance of not giving the ball away cheaply if his side are to get back into this after the break. Stick with us, plenty more to come.
Half-time: Japan 1-0 Australia
45+1 mins: There goes the whistle, and the first half is brought to a close. What to make of it?
45 mins: Well, those chances, one at either end, in the dying moments of the first half, show this game has goals left in it. Australia are still very much in this.
43 mins: Minamino! He comes inside and fires off a low drive that Ryan does well to get down to and tip round his post for a corner!
42 mins: Australia so unlucky not to have levelled things up there, against the run of play.
41 mins: Oooh! Taggart sees his effort cannon back off the upright after some great interplay with Rogic following Boyle’s ball forward! Replays show the keeper Gonda gets a crucial touch to diver Taggart’s effort onto the post!
38 mins: Osako’s causing havoc on the left at the moment. He pirouettes beautifully to take out two Socceroo defenders here, to widespread “oohs” from the crowd.
37 mins: Nagatomo and Minamino combine to good effect once again down the Japan left. The eventual cross into the middle is just a whisker away from Osako!
36 mins: Ryan has to be quick off his line here to head clear from outside of his box.
34 mins: Another mistake from a Socceroo in midfield, this time from Hrustic, whose heavy touch gifts possession to Osako. The Japanese attacker moves forward with real intent, but his final effort on goal is dragged wide. Sighs of relief all around the Australian camp, again.
31 mins: That’s a lovely cross-field ball from Yoshida, but again it comes to nothing for Japan.
30 mins: Japan win possession of the ball again in midfield, and they’re able to launch another attack down the right. It peters out quickly enough, but Australia aren’t going to make any inroads here if they can’t keep hold of the ball.
29 mins: Nothing comes of the corner for Japan, but that was impressive build-up play from the hosts, heavily involving the Liverpool player Minamino.
28 mins: Australia have every man behind the ball here, but still Japan get round the back as Minamino links up well on the left before firing a near-post cross towards Osako! Scrambled behind for a corner.
25 mins: Mooy’s given no time at all on the ball in the middle of the pitch and he loses possession. Japan build again.
23 mins: Nagatomo beautifully pulls down a high ball forward with apparent ease before delivering a dangerous ball into the corridor of uncertainty in front of Ryan. The Socceroos goalkeeper is decisive though, and he puts his body on the line to claim the cross - and hold on under pressure.
22 mins: An error from Sainsbury gifts the ball to Japan, but Ito’s shot after coming inside onto his left foot, it high and wide of the target. Sainsbury will be breathing a sigh of relief there.
19 mins: “Good Harry” is the shout from what sounds like Graham Arnold on the sidelines as Australia look to play the ball out of defence and get a hold on the game now.
17 mins: Here goes Boyle on the Australian right. He’s kept in check, hint of a foul, but none given by the ref.
14 mins: That sequence might just help the Socceroos settle a bit. Easy to let an early goal shape a game.
13 mins: Hrustic takes the second corner from the far side. It’s poor but the Socceroos are fortunate to win another corner. This time Hrustic tries to catch Gonda out with a whipped ball in that forces the keeper into action to deny Sainsbury! Another corner results.
12 mins: A corner to the Socceroos. Mooy swings it over, and keeper Gonda touches it over the bar for another corner, from the other side of the pitch.
9 mins: That’s a hammer blow for Australia, but a huge fillip for the hosts, who can let some of that pre-game pressure slide off their backs now. You could easily argue that Japan’s early positive play, especially down their right, warranted that goal.
GOAL! Japan 1-0 Australia (Tanaka 8)
8 mins: Minamino’s cross from the left takes a slight, yet crucial, deflection that fools Behich, who swings at the ball but misses. It falls to Tanaka, who takes a touch before firing low past Ryan into the far corner!
7 mins: Minamino flies into Taggart in the middle of the park and gives away a free-kick, which will allow the Socceroos a chance to compose themselves. Japan have started the brighter of the two sides.
5 mins: Here come Japan again down the right. Souttar gets in a bit of a twist and concedes a corner. From the kick, Endo gets there but can only direct his downwards header the wrong side of the past, with Ryan flailing!
4 mins: That’s a warning for Australia though - Ito can cause problems down the Socceroos’ left tonight.
3 mins: But here’s a bit more of a roar from the stands as Ito pushes the ball past Behich and legs it past the defender on the Japan right before he fires over a cross. It’s hit too hard to cause any real problems for the Socceroos though.
2 mins: Those inside in the stadium tonight are making some kind of atmosphere early on. Continuous polite applause is the backdrop to the opening exchanges.
First half under way
1 min: Peeeep! And we’re off in Saitama! Japan, in their blue home kit, get proceedings under way. Australia, as usual, in their green shirts and gold shorts.
Anthem time. No hiccups. The Japanese anthem, Kimi Ga Yo, is one of my favourites. Pure relaxation. Let’s do this.
OK, here come the teams, out into Saitama Stadium which has some fans in attendance tonight, including Australians - a rare sight indeed at a Socceroos game.
Another impressive Socceroos stat, this one concerning Ajdin Hrustic, who could prove key for Australia tonight.
And if there’s time before kick-off, here’s Joey Lynch on how Graham Arnold’s team are yet to put in a truly exceptional performance, despite the impressive-looking results. The point is, who cares? Three points are three points.
Meanwhile, just another day in the A-Leagues.... this, courtesy of AAP:
A-Leagues referees say they are currently without contracts for the A-League Men and Women seasons and have made themselves unavailable for upcoming trial matches and FFA Cup games.
Professional Football Referees Australia released a statement on Tuesday saying they had informed Football Australia on Monday their referees would not officiate the games after “more than three months of discussions and efforts to resolve several topics”.
The PFRA said referees were without contracts for the upcoming season and added the A-Leagues leadership and coaching department did not have their contracts renewed when the leagues unbundled from Football Australia in July.
They said this meant referees had been given “no direction, coaching/instruction and no fitness coaching” over the past three months.
“We are now just weeks out from the start of the season, and the referees find themselves in a position without any form of coaching and/or preparation,” the statement said.
The A-League Men season kicks off on 19 November with the women’s competition commencing on 3 December.
Home comforts. Or rather a lack of for the Socceroos - tonight’s away game marks the 19th time Australia have played on foreign soil in Arnold’s 22 games in charge since taking over in 2018. That’s a quite remarkable statistic. There is hope, however, the Socceroos will finally be able to return to Australia for their next outing, against Saudi Arabia on 11 November, with Covid restrictions easing in New South Wales. (The Matildas are playing a pair of friendlies against Brazil in front of a limited crowd in Sydney later this month.) The lack of home games has impacted Arnold in particular - he hasn’t been back to Australia since leaving in May and has been dividing his time between the Middle East and the UK, with a brief sojourn in Japan for the Olyroos’ Olympic campaign.
“We’ve had one World Cup qualifier, out of 11, at home,” Arnie said this week. “It’s a privilege to coach the nation. It does get tiring at times but it’s what it is.”
What’s with the 14-minutes-past-the-hour kick-off time? It seems weird to have such a specific start time, a minute shy of what would be an entirely more normal quarter-past KO. I’ve been reliably informed it’s nothing other than for TV reasons - each member association can nominate their preferred kick-off times in collaboration with the AFC and local TV broadcasters. Seriously, if the game doesn’t start bang on 9:14pm, I’m lodging an official complaint.
The teams are in.
Aaron Mooy starts for the first time in two years for the Socceroos, but Awer Mabil misses out. Bruce Djite has just said on the telly that the striker is “red hot”, so it’s something of a surprise. One more change from the win over Oman, with Fran Karacic in the starting XI, with Rhyan Grant out.
AFC World Cup qualifying explained. If you’re under the impression that qualifying for next year’s World Cup has been drawn out over a number of years already, you are absolutely right. The first of four rounds began back in June 2019, with the likes of Australia and Japan joining the fray in the second phase just over two years ago. Tonight’s two teams progressed from that round as group winners to find themselves here, in the penultimate round of Asian qualification. The eventual winners and runners-up of Group B can skip the final round of qualification and progress directly to Qatar - Australia, with six games remaining after tonight, are on course to do that as they sit pretty at the top of the table with nine points from nine, along with Saudi Arabia. Japan, meanwhile, head into tonight’s game in third, six points adrift of the leaders, and it’s easy to see why there is concern locally. Whoever finishes the group in third is forced into a one-off fourth-round match against the other third-placed team from Group A, with the winner of that game heading into a two-legged intercontinental playoff. Simple really.
The Socceroos are a perfect 11 from 11 so far on the long (and, dare I say, seemingly never-ending) road to the World Cup. They can make it a dozen tonight at Saitama Stadium, and if they do manage to extend their record World Cup qualification winning streak, they can take a big step towards reaching next year’s tournament in Qatar.
Arguably, there has never been a better time to face their old foes Japan. A solitary point from their three outings so far in this stage of qualification - and just a single goal scored, against China - has ramped up the pressure on coach Hajime Moriyasu who, as John Duerden points out in his match preview below, may well not be in gainful employment come Japan’s next match against Vietnam should his side fall to another defeat tonight.
The contrast with Graham Arnold could not be more stark, with the Socceroos coach having overseen a run that has taken his side clear of the benchmark set by Germany (2018), Spain (2010) and Mexico (2006) in terms of consecutive victories, and put them in a commanding position at the top of Group B in this third round of Asian qualification. Another three points in Japan tonight, in what would have been marked out as their most difficult assignment before this phase got underway, would provide a huge fillip.