Australia earned a precious point against a determined Japan side as the two sides fought out a goalless draw on Wednesday in Yokohama to share the spoils in qualification for South Africa 2010.
The result kept the Socceroos in firm control of Group 1 after their three wins and today's draw puts them on ten points, two points ahead of the Japanese, who have now won two and drawn two. Only the top two teams from the group, which includes Qatar, Bahrain and Uzbekistan, qualify for the FIFA World Cup™ while the third-placed team has to go through the play-offs.
I can only give my players compliments for trips they made, the time difference, and more or less no preparation, and they did a good job against a strong team.
On a chilly night Japan were the better team, creating more chances but Pim Verbeek's men will be happy with the draw after soaking up long periods of pressure in front a patriotic home crowd. The home team got off to the better start, with striker Keiji Tamada getting the first shot on target in the fourth minute. Shortly afterwards, defender Atsuto Uchida broke through only to fall victim to the offside trap, while Australia had their first sniff of goal when Luke Wilkshire's free-kick just failed to reach Everton's Tim Cahill.
Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura was always a threat and unleashed a trademark shot only to see it hit the top of the net. Then Yuto Nagatomo was hauled down in the 36th minute but Yasuhito Endo couldn't capitalise from the resulting free-kick. The Australians surprisingly had to wait until first-half injury time for their first clear-cut chance when Cahill had a shot on goal. But they came out with a more aggressive attitude after the break and piled on the pressure, but with nothing to show for it.
Japan fought back with substitute Yoshito Okubo and Yasuhito Endo hitting sizzling shots to keep goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer busy in the 68th and 69th minutes respectively. The home side continued to threaten the Australian goal, but Tamada's header went over the bar, while Makoto Hasebe's shot hit Okubo and went out, allowing Schwarzer to keep his fourth straight clean sheet.
The stalemate means the two teams remain all-square in their overall head-to-head record with six wins, six defeats and five draws. In their next matches, Japan play Bahrain on 28 March, while Australia will meet Uzbekistan on 1 April, both at home.
"After 90 minutes, I have to say that I am pleased with the result," said Australia coach Pim Verbeek. "I can only give my players compliments for trips they made, the time difference, and more or less no preparation, and they did a good job against a strong team because Japan played very well today. I am very pleased with the result.
"I think we did excellent today. I think we made a big step today by getting a draw against Japan. We didn't deserve to win the game, but for us 0-0 was excellent," he added.
Japan coach Takeshi Okada appeared disappointed, saying Japan must be more accurate infront of goal and create more chances. "It is not that we critically lack something. I believe Australia is a good team but I don't think we are any inferior - I'm sure we have improved," he commented.