Socceroos' World Cup campaign out of their hands

ANALYSIS: The rollercoaster of emotions that has been part and parcel of the Socceroos' 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign shows no sign of abating.


Japan's Yosuke Ideguchi, centre, celebrates his goal Source: Getty Images

Going into the second last match of their qualifying campaign to reach the finals in Russia, Australia knew they needed a draw against Japan to keep alive their ambition of making four straight World Cups.

The Socceroos' preparations for the game at Saitama Stadium received a timely boost on Wednesday when news came through that the United Arab Emirates had beaten Saudi Arabia 2-1, meaning Ange Postecoglou's men would qualify for the finals with a game to spare with victory over the Japanese team that clearly have seen better days.

Australia played superbly in their last FIFA Confederations Cup match against Chile two months ago and hopes of a first away victory over the Samurai Blue were more than justified.

But the Socceroos went from the sublime to the ridiculous at Saitama and turned in a poor performance for a deflating 2-0 defeat.

Postecoglou opted to crowd the midfield with as many players as possible in a bid to deprive the Japanese of space and time to weave their intricate patterns.

The Australians had the lion's share of possession but of course what counts most is what you do with the ball and not how long you have it. And to be brutally honest, the Socceroos did not do much at all with it.

The only scoring chance they created in the whole match was from a deflected shot by Mathew Leckie that hit the post in the first half.

A few minutes later, Japan took the lead when Takuma Asano was given the freedom by Brad Smith to pick his spot from two metres out.

The Socceroos stepped it up a gear in the second half but they failed to put Japan's defence under too much pressure. They were too slow and that defence-splitting pass was never forthcoming.

Japan were happy to sit back but actually they were far more dangerous in their fewer attacks and on one occasion Trent Sainsbury had to clear the ball off the line after Mat Ryan was beaten by a shot from Yosuke Ideguchi.

A few minutes later, a marvellous shot from Ideguchi beat Ryan again but this time there was no defender to save him and the ball ended up in the net.

Japan have now qualified for Russia as group leaders and second spot will be decided early Wednesday morning.

Saudi Arabia and Australia are joint second in Group B with the Saudis holding a two-goal advantage in the goal difference stakes.

On Tuesday night, the Socceroos face Thailand in Melbourne and a few hours later the Saudis face Japan in Jeddah.

And here lies the problem. Because of the excessive heat in west Asia at this time of the year, the Jeddah clash will take place at 8:30pm local time, well after the final whistle of the match in Melbourne.

Which of course means that the Saudis will know exactly what they need to do to overtake the Australians.

The Socceroos will need to run up a big score against the Thais and hope the Japanese will honour the fixture even though they will have nothing to play for except pride.

It's going to be a nervous night and an even more nervous wait for the outcome of the Jeddah match.

It's not a very comforting position to be in and it could have been much worse if the UAE had not beaten the Saudis two days ago.

But then again this is why we joined Asia ... to be seriously challenged.

We certainly face a big challenge, that's for sure.

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4 min read
Published 31 August 2017 at 11:00pm
By Philip Micallef