Australia versus Japan as a rivalry of note arguably came to the fore in Kaiserslautern on June 12, 2006. The game where Tim Cahill pulled Australia from a one nil deficit to a 2-1 lead with less than 10 minutes remaining, punctuated by John Aloisi adding the finishing touch in injury time, will live long in the memories of Socceroos and Samurai Blue fans alike. Australia joining the Asian Football Confederation that same year just added fuel to the fire.
It was back on November 27, 1956 at the Melbourne Olympics that the two countries first faced off in the first round of the summer games tournament. Like in Kaiserslautern, the Aussies would be victorious that day thanks to goals from Graham McMillan (26′) and Francis Loughran (61′).
Japan has exacted revenge though, particularly in the two Asian Cups Australia have participated in since making the move to Asia.
In Australia’s first Asian Cup in 2007, the two foes met surprisingly early due to a disappointing performance from the green and gold in the group stages which saw them finish second behind Iraq. The two couldn’t be separated after regulation and extra time with the scores locked 1-1 after goals from Aloisi and Naohiro Takahara respectively. This meant the game would go to the dreaded penalty shootout, but given Australia’s recent history it was not such a bad outcome considering the doom and gloom going into the match. However the 2005 heroics at Stadium Australia against Uruguay would not be repeated with both Harry Kewell and Lucas Neill missing their spot kicks.
Fast forward four years and the two would once more meet in the Asian Cup but this time in the big one, the 2011 final. Australia had cruised into the final after a six nil demolition of Uzbekistan while the Japanese fought a war with the South Koreans which was decided by penalties. All things being equal, one could be forgiven for thinking this was going to be Australia’s time to really stamp their presence in Asia. Kewell and Neill, who were the villains last tournament were in great form this time around with both named in the Team of the Tournament.
Australia would have enough chances to win multiple games but the ball would not go in and Japan’s goalkeeper, Eiji Kawashima, was in inspired form. The game would remain a stalemate until the second half of extra time when Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker Tadanari Lee would connect with a volley in the centre of the eighteen yard box from a Yuta Nagatomo cross, breaking Australian hearts.
Overall, the two countries have met twenty two times at senior men’s level and share a very even record, with seven wins for the Socceroos, seven draws, and eight wins for the Samurai Blue.
The next instalment of this marquee matchup will be played out at Nagai Stadium, Osaka, on the the 18th of November. Japan will go in full of confidence following the six goal mauling they gave Honduras last Friday, while Australia will be looking to find a spark that could ignite the team leading into the all-important Asian Cup 2015 which the Aussies will host.
Japan showed on Friday that perhaps they are already gelling with coach Javier Aguirre of Mexico. Australia on the other hand look to be still finding their feet under the guidance of Ange Postecoglou, with the Australian coach still looking to pinpoint his preferred eleven.
Although only a friendly, there will be no holding back between the two nations who are always looking to make a statement against each other as both lay claim to being powerhouses within the Asian confederation. Fans in Australia will be rather cautious given current form but as the Socceroos showed during 2014 World Cup qualification both home and away, even when they enter as underdogs they raise a level in this contest.
If you can expect anything tomorrow night, expect a fight between two proud footballing nations who will give no quarter.