Martin Boyle and Australia's winning end brought to an end by Japan

Australia’s winning run in World Cup qualifying was brought to an end by old foes Japan in Saitama on Tuesday.

By Patrick McPartlin
Tuesday, 12th October 2021, 2:02 pm
Martin Boyle in action for Australia as Japan's Ao Tanaka keeps tabs on the Hibs winger during the FIFA World Cup Asian qualifier final round Group B match at Saitama Stadium
Martin Boyle in action for Australia as Japan's Ao Tanaka keeps tabs on the Hibs winger during the FIFA World Cup Asian qualifier final round Group B match at Saitama Stadium

The Blue Samurai were desperate for three points after shock defeats at the hands of Oman and Saudi Arabia left them at risk of falling out of contention in the group and piled the pressure on coach Hajime Moriyasu while the Socceroos were keen to keep their unbeaten run going as they aim for Qatar 2022.

Ao Tanaka put Japan ahead early doors before an Ajdin Hrustic free kick brought things level with 25 minutes to play. An own goal by Australia defender Aziz Behich five minutes from time secured a vital three points for the hosts and ended the visitors’ succession of victories.

Japan started the game brightly with Junya Ito causing problems on the right flank and Wataru Endo sending a header just wide of Maty Ryan’s post from an early corner but it was Takumi Minamino who fashioned the opener after just eight minutes.

The Liverpool forward’s cross from the left took a slight deflection leaving Behich swinging at fresh air and Tanaka took a touch before finishing low past Ryan.

Graham Arnold’s side forced a series of corners in the minutes after the goal with goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda denying Trent Sainsbury a quickfire equaliser.

Boyle played a part in Australia’s best chance of the opening 45, starting a move involving Tom Rogic and Adam Taggart but the latter’s shot cannoned back off the post with replays showing Gonda had got the merest of touches to deny the former Dundee United loanee.

At the other end, Ryan had to be alert to prevent Minamino from extending the hosts’ lead as he tipped the forward’s effort out for a corner.

Australia started the second half in the same fashion, Aaron Mooy sending an effort from distance just wide.

Rogic then scooped an effort over the bar moments before club colleague Kyogo Furuhashi entered the fray for Osako.

Moments later Boyle scampered down the right flank, cutting it back for Hrustic who was brought down by Hidemasa Morita and although the referee pointed to the spot with the Hibs man expected to take the penalty, a VAR check overturned the decision, signalling a free kick.

Hrustic made no mistake from the set-piece, cracking the equaliser in off the underside of the bar.

Japan rallied and Ryan pulled off a fine double save to keep Australia in the game before thwarting substitute Takuma Asano after good work by Furuhashi.

With five minutes remaining, Ryan could only push Asano’s deflected effort onto the post and as he attempted to clear, Behich turned the ball into his own net sparking wild celebrations from the Japanese.

Speaking afterwards Arnold said: “It was a great spectacle to watch; both teams had a go at each other. At the end of the day we were a bit unlucky, we hit a post and conceded a deflected goal at the end.

“When there’s a crowd it gives home teams energy. We played some great football, intelligent football. But at the end of the day it wasn’t meant to be.”

Australia are next in action against Saudi Arabia and China in November.

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