Australia vs Japan: A referee, a pitch and a bunch of old blokes
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Given the early press, I was convinced the Japanese team for the World Cup qualifier against Australia in Brisbane was the second coming of Spain, Barcelona and 1970 Brazil all rolled into one.
Conversely, they were playing a bunch of guys soon for the nursing home, who took their Zimmer frames as carry-on luggage on the flight home from Muscat.
As often happens with football punditry, predictions and fearless forecasts, it didn’t quite pan out as many had expected but the 90 minutes the Socceroos and Japan produced at Brisbane Swamplands was one of the most exciting internationals in recent memory.
The Socceroos should feel both aggrieved and lucky at the same time. Aggrieved, because over the course of the game they created the better chances, hit the crossbar, had a shot cleared off the line and were denied by some great shot-stopping by Japanses keeper Kawashima.
And of course the red card to Mark Milligan for having the gall to go for the ball would have left them a bit dirty too.
They were lucky as well, when the Saudi referee hallucinated for a split second and assumed that he simply had to give the Socceroos a penalty when Alex Brosque had a moment of interpretive dance with the Japanese defence.
Losing Mark Bresciano so early was a blow to the Socceroos creative options. No doubt old Bresc must have damaged one of his artificial hips, and replacement Mark Milligan is a different type of player entirely. Not quite as old either. That might soothe the experts.
That being said, Tim Cahill was a colossus. He harrassed and tortured the Japanese defence with energy and physicality, if not cunning and guile. Japan must have Cahill-induced nightmares.
Super Tim should be picked for every Socceroos game against Japan until he’s 70 (that’s in a couple of years, isn’t it, experts?)
Japan had moments where they looked likely to open the Australian back four like a can of dolphin-friendly tuna. Keisuke Honda celebrated his birthday eve with a sparkling attacking performance, skinning David Carney like a frontier woodsman to lay on Japan’s goal. Given he turns 26 tomorrow, he needs to keep doing that sort of thing because he obviously only has a good year or two left in him.
Yasuhito Endo was peerless, but at 32 years of age was no doubt looking to swap dentures rather than shirts with the Socceroos at the final whistle.
The old blokes hung on and even went close to winning it, despite being a man down for a lot of the second half. And all the drama was played out on a surface that was a national disgrace.
Whoever thought it was a good idea scheduling a rugby test and a football international within 3 days of each other needs their head read. Homebush was free last Saturday night – why wasn’t the Wallabies game played there? Don’t tell me it was to preserve the pitch for State of Origin.
After a few days of ridiculous criticism, the Socceroos old guys proved there’s life left in those old bones yet. And their coach got his tactics pretty much right. Not bad for a “political” appointment.