Football

Japan beat Australia with late own goal

Samurai Blue pip Australia to get World Cup qualifying campaign back on track

Japan jolted their flatlining World Cup qualifying campaign into life with a dramatic 2-1 home win over Australia in Saitama yesterday.

An 86th-minute own goal from Australia's Aziz Behich gave the Samurai Blue the crucial three points, after starting Group B with two defeats from three matches.

   WORLD CUP QUALIFIER
JAPAN AUSTRALIA
2 1
(Ao Tanaka 8, Aziz Behich 86-og ) (Ajdin Hrustic 69)

The result also ended the Socceroos' record-breaking run of 11 straight wins on the road to Qatar 2022.

Japan went into the game knowing that anything less than a win would put them in danger of missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1994.

Ao Tanaka gave them the perfect start with the opener in the eighth minute, only for Ajdin Hrustic to equalise with a curling free-kick that went in off the bar in 69th minute.

But Behich bundled the ball over the line under pressure from Takuma Asano with four minutes remaining, keeping Japan in the hunt for one of the two automatic World Cup spots in Group B.

"We kept fighting until the end and never gave up - we are determined to get to the World Cup and we showed that tonight," said Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu.

"It was a great win but we still have a lot of tough games to come. We have to make sure we use this win and build on it."

The Japanese media had speculated that Moriyasu could lose his job with anything less than a win, and he made a special point of applauding fans behind the goal after the final whistle.

"I wanted to thank the fans for their support - they gave the players courage," he said.

Coming into the game under immense pressure, Moriyasu rang the changes, dropping Gaku Shibasaki - who was responsible for the goal they conceded against Saudi Arabia last week - and replacing him with the more dynamic Tanaka.

The change paid off as Tanaka was found with time and space in the penalty area by Takumi Minamino in the eighth minute, and the midfielder scored with a low shot past Mathew Ryan.

Japan had opportunities to add to their tally with Junya Ito and Yuya Osako both missing the target.

Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic also went close for Australia before Hrustic was brought down on the edge of the area by Hidemasa Morita.

Referee Abdulrahman Al Jassim had initially awarded a penalty, but the VAR (video assistant referee) overturned the decision and gave a free-kick.

It mattered little as Hrustic struck in style before Ryan kept a determined Japan at bay. But he could do nothing about Behich's own goal.

"Two sloppy goals, unfortunately, the second one was a deflection," said Australia coach Graham Arnold. "I thought especially in the second half we dominated."

While the Socceroos' 11-match winning run came to an end, Arnold seemed more relieved than upset.

"The win record is over but we still hold that record, and it's a fantastic achievement by the players," he said. "We can stop talking about it now and move forward with the World Cup campaign."

Only the top two teams in each of Asia's two qualifying groups advance automatically to the Finals, with the third-placed teams going into a series of play-offs. - AFP, REUTERS

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