Australia vs Japan World Cup qualifier: Live scores, blog
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Japan's Tandari Lee celebrates scoring the winning goal against Australia during the AFC Asian Cup final soccer match at Khalifa Stadium, in Doha, Qatar, Saturday Jan. 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung).
The Socceroos host an undefeated Japan tonight in the fourth round of Asian Football Confederation World Cup qualifiers. Join us from 8pm AEST for minute-by-minute commentary and live scores.
The Socceroos will confront their biggest challenge yet en route to Brazil 2014. Anyone who saw any of Japan’s thrashing of Jordan on Friday night would have no doubt they were witnessing the best team in Asia in red-hot form.
The Socceroos have a very short time to recover from playing in extreme heat five days earlier, and perversely face a longer trip back to Brisbane than Japan do.
The gulf between Japan and Jordan was stark. We shouldn’t be surprised when we see which clubs some Blue Samurai play for: Shinji Kagawa has just signed with Manchester United, Yuto Nagamoto plays with Inter Milan, Keisuke Honda plays with CSKA Moscow, and captain Makoto Hasebe is a regular with Wolfsburg.
Let’s not forget the incomparable Yasuhito Endo, who has played in Japan for the whole of his career.
In the meantime, Australia’s aging squad are leaving their European bases one by one, looking for final pay cheques in the Middle East and the A-League.
We have to allow for the conditions in Oman last Friday, but this lowly-ranked team made the Socceroos look like a also-rans for much of the second half.
We need some divine intervention, and if we are looking for a portent, what about this: it is six years to the day that the Socceroos came back very late in the piece to defeat Japan 3-1 for our first ever World Cup win.
Tim Cahill was the hero that day with a brace, and his name has been discussed in recent days. He hasn’t featured much in recent Socceroo games, but Holger Osieck needs to balance the limited recovery of the players who featured last Friday with the need to inject something differen and fresh into the team.
Cahill could be just what the doctor ordered.
Osieck has been holding his cards close to his chest, more than likely giving some players time to prove their fitness.
With Japan being in such form, I’m thinking Osieck will opt for a defensive 4-2-3-1 formation (to counter Japan’s attacking 4-2-3-1), with Mile Jedinak coming into the team as a second defensive midfielder, partnering Carl Valeri, who was good in the first half last game.
With Japan’s tallest central defender, Maya Yoshida, injured for this match, the door might open for Josh Kennedy to come in as the centre-forward. Brosque and Kewell up forward last game didn’t really work.
Jade North and David Carney were good at full back, especially in the first half, but once again, it becomes a matter of recovery. In the case of North, it would not surprise to see Williams coming into the team.
More than likely, Holger will stick with Lucas Neill and Sasa Ognenovski, although once again, ageing legs are an issue. Spiranovic is young and still finding his way, but might have the advantage of fresh legs and knowing some of his opponents.
Mark Bresciano deserves to keep his playmaking role in front of the two defensive mids, with the only question mark being whether the 32 year old has another 90 minutes in him.
As for the wide players, depending on what form of 4-2-3-1 Holger wants to run with, he may decide to replace Luke Wilkshire and Matt McKay.
Wilkshire faded badly in the second half last game, while Mckay never got going, although he does carry with him some home ground advantage.
Harry Kewell is another who never got going last game, but given he didn’t play the full 90 minutes, he’s one to consider on the left wing where he might be able to find more space for himself than he did against Oman as the second striker.
James Troisi is another option on the left side.
If Holger wants a true winger on the right side, he won’t find that in Wilkshire, and here he might be tossing up between Robbie Kruse or Nikita Rukavytsya.
That leaves no room for Cahill, who might have to come off the bench, but once again, it all depends on how well some players have come up after Friday night.
Japan is playing with supreme confidence, each and every member of the regular starting XI in top form, their only issue is guarding against complacency.
Hat-trick hero against Jordan, Keisuke Honda, claims the Blue Samurai’s best form will be too much for the Socceroos. He’s probably right, but at this level of competition it’s dangerous to count your chickens before they hatch.
Manager Alberto Zaccheroni knows that another three points here and they can start buying their tickets for Brazil.
For Australia, another point is sufficient, and even a loss is not a disaster.
Tonight it’s about Osieck getting his charges to last the full 90 minutes, and locking down and crowding out Japan’s classy midfield.
If the Socceroos are mentally up for the challenge, a low-scoring draw and close win could be on the cards. If Japan are firing, and Australia looking fatigued, the Socceroos may need to dig-deep just to hold on.
Game InformationConfirmed starting lineups:
North, Neill, Ognenovski, Carney
Valeri, Wilkshire, McKay, Bresciano
Uchida, Kurihara, Konno, Nagatomo
Endo, Hasebe, Kagawa, Honda, Okazaki
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