After a lacklustre opening period, Australia looked to have done enough to seal their place in the knockout round at the Parkstad Limburg Stadium in Kerkrade. But a late goal from Shunsuke Maeda combined with a 1-0 win for Holland over Benin to secure blushing Japan's spot in the second round of the FIFA World Youth Championship Netherlands 2005.
"This was always going to be a difficult group to get out of," Japan boss Kiyoshi Ohkuma said after the game "But my players all did well and I must thank them for their efforts in seeing us to the next round."
Australia boss Ange Postecoglou's displeasure with his side's first two performances was crystal clear after a cursory glance at the starting line-up. With six new starters in the side, it was obvious he was looking to spice things up a bit.
Straight away one of his new men, the hulking Ryan Townsend, came within inches of scoring. Getting on the end of a fine cross, his glancing free header could only slip just wide of the target.
Another clear chance in minute 25 from spitfire winger Chris Tadrosse had Japan thanking the reflexes of their keeper Shusaku Nishikawa.
With only one goal in two matches, and none from the run of play, the fact that the Australians finished the first half scoreless will have surely left Postecoglou with something to shout about in the locker-room.
Japan, lacking imagination and also without a goal from the run of play at these finals, had to be content with only one chance from Shingo Hyodo on the end of some fine work from Robert Cullen in minute 28.
A snapshot from Hirayama - disappointing in the first half - got things off on the right foot for Japan in the early minutes of the second. Moments later, though, the tall striker inexplicably missed his cue on a free header from six yards.
The 75th minute seemed to bring heartache for Japan and joy for the committed Aussies when an innocuous free kick from Tadrosse was spilled agonisingly by the previously unflappable Nishikawa. After a scramble in the box and a sea of yellow shirts throwing themselves at the ball, new man Townsend popped up to bundle it over the line (0:1, 75').
In a last frenzied attempt to get something going up front Japan boss Kiyoshi Ohkuma took off captain and defender Hyodo and threw on 16-year-old wunderkind striker Takayuki Morimoto.
With palpable desperation, the Asians threw everything they had at their opponents. And in a final twist of the tale, they raced upfield on a counter-attack where Yohei Kajiyama fed Shunsuke Maeda who bobbled the ball clumsily, almost apologetically, over the line past new keeper Justin Pasfield (1:1, 87').
Japan, at the death, had snatched qualification from the jaws of defeat.
Postecoglou will certainly have something to say to his charges as he was up and shouting for them to take the ball to corner and run out the clock seconds before the fateful goal fell.
As the Japanese celebrated their qualification for the knockout round, poor Oz were left to rue three games' worth of wasted chances. Knowing they had done their best, coach Postecoglou went to each of his lads and offered an embrace born of appreciation and sympathy.
As the result of the Netherlands-Benin match filtered into the stadium, Ohkuma and his charges celebrated enthusiastically. And with a peculiarly charming sense of decorum, the players walked over to their long-travelling fans and offered a bow of thanks.
They will now go on to play Morocco in the Round of Sixteen on Tuesday in Enschede. "In the next game we will have to sacrifice our discipline for attack, I think," concluded Ohkuma.