Japan qualify for 2014 World Cup

Japan qualify for 2014 World Cup

By Paul Williams in Tokyo

Japan has sealed their place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup after a last minute penalty denied Australia an historic win in front of over 62,000 fanatical fans at Saitama Stadium.

A Japanese flag flickers in the breeze ahead of their WCQ against Australia

After dominating the majority of the match, Japan looked set to rue their missed opportunities when young Australian winger Tommy Oar scored an unlikely goal when his attempted cross somehow floated into the net at the back post, beating a helpless Eiji Kawashima.

The match was an even affair in the first half, with both teams owing a debt of gratitude to their keeper for keeping a clean sheet going in to half time.

Australian veteran Mark Schwarzer pulled off a typically remarkable save to deny Kagawa the opening goal when he seemed destined to score. At the other end, Kawashima made a save equally as good to deny Robbie Kruse who was played through one-on-one by a delightful pass from Brett Holman.

It was Holman and Mark Bresciano who were Australia’s best players in the first half, with the midfielders involved in Australia’s best opportunities.

Japan’s best opportunities, apart from Kagawa’s miss, fell to games record holder Yasuhito Endo who twice came close, once with a free kick and then minutes later with a left footed effort from the edge of the box.

In the second half, however, Japan really asserted their dominance on the match and dominated Australia for the first 30 minutes, not allowing the Australian team any time on the ball and getting forward time and time again.

After bringing on Yuzo Kurihara for Ryoichi Maeda, a defender for a striker, with just under 15 minutes to go, Zaccheroni switched his formation and moved Yuto Nagatomo into the left midfield position, as he did in the 2011 Asian Cup Final, and Honda moved up to be the central striker with Kagawa moving into the hole vacated by Honda.

It was a calculated gamble and one that minutes later looked like it might not pay off when Oar looked like making himself the hero for the Australians.

But the match had one last twist when, in the first minute of stoppage time, a Keisuke Honda cross was handballed by Matt McKay, with the referee not hesitating in pointing to the spot.

Honda was the man to step up, and after being the central figure for Japan all night it was fitting that it was he who scored the goal that would send Japan to the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Saitama Stadium erupted upon the final whistle, with players and staff embracing and celebrating on the pitch as the fans in the stand celebrated Japan becoming the first team to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

POST-MATCH REACTIONS

Holger Osieck – “We defended well, attacked well quick on counterattacks. Still, when you’re very close to win such a game and concede a late goal it is of course disappointing.

“Yet, I told my players to keep their chin up, not to question themselves we just earn confidence toward the two games in Australia.

“There is no reason for them [to be disappointed] we got a lot of mental strength from this game ahead of the two home games.”

Lucas Neill – ” I don’t think many people genuinely gave us a chance today before the game – I did – and I certainly thought that we probably, possibly deserved three points and that would have set us up lovely but, we’ll take the point and we know we’ve got two games and destiny is still in our own hands.”

“I think what Australia needs to take out of this game, particularly form a supporter point of view, is that when you get 70,000 people driving the team on for 90 minutes that proverbially sucks the ball into the ball into the back of the net and that’s what happened tonight.

“They kept the Japanese team going all night and we need the same, we need a big crowd, full of yellow intimidating the other team. They had us under the pump for about 25 minutes, we couldn’t get out of our own half and that was the crowd just egging them on, egging them on, and then the game changes if you keep them quiet.

“When we’re at home we need that crowd, the crowd played their part tonight, that crowd got that Japanese team the point they needed tonight to get them to the World Cup.”

Mark Schwarzer – “Japan at home are a very good side, but I think we contained them very well. We limited them to only a couple of chances and defensively we were outstanding I thought. I thought the only way we could concede was by a bit of misfortune and in the end I think it was a bit of misfortune.

Tommy Oar – “I was very happy with the goal, but yeah I think it’s a little bit of a bitter ending to the game. It was unfortunate but I think we played very well so we can take a lot of confidence and if we can play like that again next week and the week after then I think we’re in a good position to qualify for the World Cup.

The ball got caught at my feet a little bit, but I guess I was a little bit fortunate as well but I dug it out of my feet and yeah it fell well and I clipped it in to the box and yeah it went in.”

Alberto Zaccheroni – “I think we played a good game. We had the game in our hands and we deserved the result. We played against Australia, a team of great experience, physically strong and we know they are a powerhouse in Asia. It wasn’t easy: they denied us those spaces we need: they were compact in the back.

“Australia played with a very solid defence, as soon as they managed to get the ball they immediately restarted with counter attack. At half-time I told my players to keep at least one of the two side backs close to the centre backs, so that we had a safer defensive line with at least three players. And of course I also told them by all means not to lose the ball in midfield.

“To lose this game would have been a bad joke.”

Eiji Kawashima – “It’s a special day that we can make it in Japan, we felt that all Japanese people were behind us so the stadium was a really good atmosphere. It was a tough game, we lost a goal accidentally but we made it in the end.

“For us we were a little bit too rushing in our attack that’s why we got a little bit counter attack, we could’ve played a little bit more easily. But we made some chances and if we had a goal in the first half it could’ve been better. Anyway it was a tough game so we deserved it.”

Maya Yoshida – “ 50 percent satisfied and 50 percent not really happy because obviously we played not well and also against Bulgaria and Jordan as well maybe, we have to change something but just for the result it’s very, very important. Because today’s game was the most important for our team since Zaccheroni came in.




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