Australia’s run of disappointing results continued against Japan in the Yanmar Nagai Stadium on a brisk Tuesday evening. After an encouraging first half performance from the Socceroos, the home crowd of 46,312 were eventually treated to a 2-1 win by the Samurai Blue.
Japan went in with a strong line up that included the big names Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda with only FC Schalke defender Atsuto Uchida missing out from the established foreign legion. Australia’s coach Ange Postecoglou decided to leave the Golden Generation veterans of Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano on the bench, opting to take a look at Mathew Leckie upfront centrally and Massimo Luongo in Bresciano’s role as the creative outlet. A start was also handed to 50 game milestone man, Matt McKay of Brisbane Roar.
The match saw the visitors start the stronger, getting a lot of joy down the left side in particular with James Troisi and Aziz Behich finding space and linking up well. Troisi had a good chance early on but could only find the side netting.
Japan started to come back into it but were denied some clear cut chances thanks to desperate defending by the Aussies. Australia though were patient in possession and able to show the Japanese a different side than the expected long ball attack.
There was a scare though when Yoshinori Muto found space to get a header off which hit the crossbar although the goal wouldn’t have counted anyway with the assistant raising the flag.
In the 17th minute, Robbie Kruse down the right flank picked out Mathew Leckie with a nice cross and the FC Ingolstadt forward forced Eiji Kawashima into a smart save.
Mat Ryan had to make his first save in the 25th minute when Keisuke Honda found space outside the box to get a low shot off which the Brugge custodian handled comfortably.
The first half became an arm wrestle late on with neither team creating many chances and possession being shared from broken down attacks. At least until the 40th minute when Shinji Kagawa got into a dangerous position crossing from the byline only for the ball to be put behind for a corner.
A few minutes later Massimo Luongo had a speculative shot from distance after being fed by Matt McKay.
Mile Jedinak conceded a free kick in Honda territory on the stroke of half time but despite beating the defensive wall, it was a rather tame effort straight into the waiting arms of Ryan.
Both coaches would be looking for more in the front third but Postecoglou would’ve been the happier of the two at halftime with his side showing a marked improvement on recent games.
Only the one change at the half saw Japan coach Javier Aguirre swap out veteran Gamba Osaka midfielder Yasuhito Endo for fellow Gamba man, Yasuyuki Konno.
Japan came out with intent in the second half, creating a couple of great chances for Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki in the 50th and 51st minutes respectively but Ryan made a couple of great stops to keep the scores level.
Aguirre made another change in the 56th minute bringing off young striker Muto for the German based Takashi Inui who plays in the Bundesliga for Eintracht Frankfurt.
Japan took the lead following a Honda corner in the 61st minute that found Konno unmarked at the back post to put it past a helpless Ryan.
Immediately following the goal Postecoglou brought on Bresciano and Mitch Nicholls – returning to Cerezo for the first time since being loaned out to Glory – for Luongo and Troisi. With Japan in the ascendency Australia needed to find a way back in the match and halt a Japanese team that with confidence is always a tough proposition.
However in the 68th minute a piece of brilliance by Okazaki saw him back heel a pass from Masato Morishige past Ryan to put Japan two to the good.
Australia went to their talisman in the 72nd minute, Tim Cahill, replacing McKay to the delight of the Nagai Stadium. McKay had had a good chance just before he was brought off as he received the ball in a good position but his shot was blocked, popping up into Kawashima’s safe hands.
Japan’s tails were up now and they looked threatening every foray forward while Australia looked a shadow of the team seen in the first half. Melbourne City’s Aaron Mooy was thrown on for Robbie Kruse in the last throw of the dice.
Then Cahill again showed why he loves playing Japan, grabbing a late goal to add to his impressive tally versus the Samurai Blue. The New York Red Bulls attacking midfielder jumped highest to meet a pinpoint Behich cross, heading home in trademark fashion.
Cahill has now found the net five times against Japan, most famously scoring twice during the 2006 World Cup.
It wasn’t enough though to spare the Socceroos from their eighth loss under Postecoglou. There were positives in the match and a lot to build on for Postecoglou heading into January which should provide Aussie fans with some sense of comfort.
GK Mat RYAN
RB Ivan FRANJIC, LB Aziz BEHICH, CB Trent SAINSBURY, CB Alex WILKINSON
DM Mile JEDINAK, CM Matt MCKAY (Tim CAHILL 72′), CM Massimo LUONGO (Mark BRESCIANO 62′)
FW James TROISI (Mitch NICHOLLS 62′) FW Mathew LECKIE FW Robbie KRUSE (Aaron Mooy 88′)
GK Eiji KAWASHIMA
RB Gotoku SAKAI LB Kosuke OTA CB Masato MORISHIGE CB Maya YOSHIDA
DM Makoto HASEBE CM Yasuhito ENDO (Yasuyuki KONNO 45′) CM Shinji KAGAWA
FW Shinji OKAZAKI FW Keisuke HONDA FW Yoshinori MUTO (Takashi INUI 65′)