Japan were simply too good for the shocking Socceroos

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By , Mike Tuckerman is a Roar Expert

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    Every so often you have to put your hand up and admit you’ve been beaten by an opponent who was quicker, stronger and better in every department.

    There’s not much else to say about Japan’s 2-0 defeat of Australia at Saitama Stadium other than the simple fact that the Samurai Blue played the Socceroos off the park.

    There was not a single facet of the game in which the Socceroos looked more adept than their opponents – unless you count turning over possession – and the hosts came away deserved winners on the back of goals from Takuma Asano and a Yosuke Ideguchi screamer.

    That Japan controlled the game from start to finish should have alarm bells ringing among the Australians – who now need to beat Thailand in Melbourne on Tuesday, and hope Japan take points off Saudi Arabia to book a spot in Russia.

    And on the basis of last night’s performance, the Japanese will be in no mood to do Australia any favours.

    Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou put his hand up and took responsibility for the defeat, stating that he was responsible for both the team selection and performance.

    Ange Postecoglou Football Australia Socceroos 2017

    Trouble is, it’s becoming a familiar refrain.

    If the Socceroos are to genuinely challenge their international opponents with a 3-4-2-1 formation, they’ll need to start by figuring out how to pass the ball from one teammate to the next.

    The second returning Japan skipper Makoto Hasebe intercepted his first pass of the night, you could tell it was going to be a long one for the team in gold.

    And the experiment of playing Robbie Kruse at the point of attack was an abject failure.

    Kruse may have been expected to lead the line as part of a high press, but his lack of physical presence completely blunted the Australian attack.

    It meant the loss of Tomi Juric from the start was more keenly felt than may originally have been expected, especially when Mat Leckie or Brad Smith managed to get beyond a defender, only to cut the ball back to a waiting Japanese player.

    Live by the sword, die by the sword may as well be Postecoglou’s personal mantra – but the gamble of playing three at the back looks increasingly like becoming a millstone around his neck.

    By contrast, his counterpart Vahid Halilhodzic didn’t seem particularly fazed, and for all the talk in the Australian press about the Bosnian being under pressure, the much-traveled tactician seemed to have all the answers in front of a typically partisan Saitama Stadium crowd.

    The Japan fans fully deserved their celebrations – the Samurai Blue have now qualified for six World Cups in succession – and there’s a few things we could learn from their conduct in the stands.

    As much as was on the line in Saitama, the Japanese were to a person nothing less than gracious hosts – providing directions to Australian fans, taking photos with rival sets of supporters and conversing in English when there was no real reason to expect them to.

    If the perception across Asia is that Australians are arrogant – and it is – then perhaps it wouldn’t kill us to return the hospitality from time to time.

    Still, at the end of the day it’s just a game of football, and the point was rammed home by the untimely death of legendary journalist Mike Cockerill.

    I didn’t know Mike especially well, but at one point he was my editor when I wrote a column for Football Federation Australia – at which point he would ring me and conduct breathless conversations about Asian football over the phone.

    The first time I met him was a typical Cockerill moment. “Where were you during the NSL?” he demanded to know. “In high school,” I replied – an answer that elicited only the barest satisfaction.

    He was a legend of the game, a deserved member of the FFA Hall of Fame, and he will be sorely missed.

    Mike Tuckerman
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.