Rich prize on offer for victor of Asian heavyweight bout

Japan against Australia has turned into an Asian football classic since the latter joined the Asian Football Confederation just over a decade ago. In that time, the two sides have turned on numerous high-spirited and attacking contests.

The latest chapter will be written in Japan’s Saitama Stadium on Thursday. Rarely, though, has a match had such a golden prize awaiting the victor. Thanks to Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 defeat against United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, both Japan and Australia enter the penultimate-round contest knowing a ticket to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ is potentially just 90 minutes away.

The scenario The winner will earn their ticket to the World Cup with a match to spare. For Japan it would be a sixth consecutive qualification, and for Australia a fourth. However a draw or defeat will open up a complicated scenario, heightened by the fact Japan visit second-placed Saudi Arabia in their final match where Samurai Blue would need to claim a result.

Australia tackle Thailand at home in the final outing, but defeat in Japan would leave the Socceroos anxiously awaiting the result from Jeddah later on Tuesday evening. The team which finishes third in the group will face a play-off against a Group A side, before an intercontinental play-off against a CONCACAF opponent.

The history Japan seem to have been ever-present for Australian football’s milestone moments. The two nation’s history dates all the way back to the 1956 Olympic Games – Australia’s first major international tournament. Japan was also the opponent when Australia won their first match at a World Cup – a storied 3-1 comeback win at Germany 2006. Australia’s first AFC Asian Cup final opponent was also Japan, but on that occasion in 2011 it was Samurai Blue who triumphed with a 1-0 extra-time victory.

The players Both sides have players in form. In England, Japan striker Shinji Okazaki has scored in each of Leicester City’s opening two games. Veteran defender Makoto Hasebe played another 90 minutes on the weekend for Eintracht Frankfurt following his long injury lay-off. Elsewhere in Germany, Yuya Osako and Shinji Kagawa saw game time for FC Koln and Borussia Dortmund respectively.

The Aussies also have some players grabbing headlines, notably midfield aces Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic. Mooy has been instrumental in Huddersfield’s surprise start in the English Premier League, while Rogic has been prominent in helping Celtic into the UEFA Champions League group stage. Forward Mathew Leckie scored a double a fortnight ago on debut for Hertha Berlin – his first Bundesliga brace.

The stats The most recent meeting was a 1-1 draw late last year in Melbourne on the road to Russia. The tight result was typical of recent encounters between the two nations. The two nations have been now been pitted against each other in three successive World Cup campaigns, resulting in four draws and a single 2-1 win for Australia. The Socceroos are undefeated against Japan over eight World Cup matches, including the Germany 2006 encounter, and two qualifiers way back in 1969.

The quotes “This team has character and that is what we need for this Australia game. The players have to be Samurai warriors” Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic

“Our destiny is in our hand, that’s the way we wanted it to be from the start. We have a great deal of respect for their team and players, they have respect for us. It’s always a close contest, I don’t think it’ll be different tomorrow night” Australia coach Ange Postecoglou