Saitama: Japan 1 – Australia 1
For all the furore of an aging team, and most particularly against Lucas Neill, coach Holger Osieck’s decision to restore the key central pairing of Neill and Sasa Ognenovski in defence paid off after Australia left Saitama with a 1-1 draw. They were maestros, reading every attack, and timing their tackling and lunges perfectly. It was a master class. While the result doesn’t change too much the requirements for Australia’s remaining games, it proved a fillip for a maligned team looking to rejuvenate both pride in themselves and hope in the fans to believe that qualification remains very much alive.
Played, Points & GD
Jap 7, 14, +10
Oma 7, 9, -2
Aus 6, 7, 0
Jor 6, 7, -6
Irq 6, 5, -2
11/06 Aus v Jor; Irq v Jap
18/06 Aus v Iraq; Jor v Oma
Australia enters their final two games, both at home, needing to win to seal a direct place. Just as was the equation before last night’s match. The difference the draw makes is that Australia could survive a loss in one of those games, depending on results of other matches. The other game in the group saw Oman step into second place, albeit with an extra game played. Worse would have been Iraq winning as they are Australia’s opponents in two weeks, really making for a tingly finale. As it stands, Japan could knock them out next week. Oman’s final game is in two weeks in Jordan. So, you see that Australia beating Jordan next week is so defining. That would mean a draw between Jordan and Oman allows Australia the luxury to lose against Iraq if Iraq don’t beat Japan.
It’s important to see these qualifying groups in context. It’s about total points in the group, not needing to beat Japan away or winning any particular game. It’s about points. It’s about winning home games too. So far Australia’s only had two of four at home compared to Japan and Oman four of four. Just because Australia’s home games fall towards the end of the campaign it doesn’t diminish the points on offer. In the group wWe should expect to win at least two home games, if we can’t, we don’t deserve qualification. So far two draws, so probability is in our favour. For advocates of “knowing the equation” when preferring home legs last in two-leg playoffs, we also have that. Except, we have two home matches last.
For all the good defending, going forward was often a mess. With the open and fluid game that Japan allowed, Australia constantly messed up breaks. Brett Holman was his usual blight of constant rash play mixed with hard running and one good pass or shot. That lovely pass allowed Robbie Kruse through for a one-on-one, only to hit straight at the goalie. Tim Cahill lacked composure when fluffing the rebound. Earlier Holman also lacked composure when shooting from a broken attack from over 40 metres out when propping and waiting for a runner would serve better. Japan had even better chances and can lament weak finishing and Mark Schwarzer in Australia’s goal.
It just makes you marvel at the vagaries of the game if Japan nailed one of their early chances, Tom Oar’s late cross had not snuck in to score or the late handball against Matt McKay that saw Japan equalise in injury time. A 0-0 and Australia would be happy; at 1-1 not so much given the circumstances. We all should remember, not least the menace of Fox Sport’s Andy Harper, this splendour of the sport, that goals and swings in momentum can come from nothing. The need to build an elaborate and often premature melodramatic narrative of the game exposes a lack of control of the mouth more commonly seen in other parts of the male anatomy. Really, give us a break. Can we just enjoy the game?
* Apologies for the abridged update. A broken collarbone from a bike crash with typing limited to one bruised left hand.