Japan booked their spot in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia on Thursday night with an emphatic 2-0 victory over rivals Australia at Saitama Stadium 2002.
J.Leaguers Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka) and Yosuke Ideguchi (Gamba Osaka) started the match for the Samurai Blue.
In an exciting back-and-forth match, Japan inched close to the goal in the 35th minute when Takuma Asano headed Yuto Nagatomo’s cross just wide.
Three minutes later, Australia attacker Mathew Leckie’s shot changed course after deflecting off defender Maya Yoshida, striking the post.
The next chance went in Japan’s favor, as Nagatomo cut up the left flank and crossed to an unmarked Asano, who cooly slotted the ball in with his left foot.
The second half saw Australia get the lion’s share of the possession as super subs Tomi Juric and Tim Cahill bolstered the Socceroo attack, but Yoshida, Shoji, right back Hiroki Sakai, and veteran goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima held the line and protected the cleansheet.
With eight minutes to stoppage-time, substitute Genki Haraguchi helped to insure full points for the Samurai Blue when he passed to Ideguchi, who unleashed a right-footed rocket from outside the penalty area that sailed above the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Mathew Ryan and under the post, giving Japan a decisive 2-0 lead.
The win was Japan’s first against Australia in FIFA World Cup qualifying, ensuring their sixth straight appearance in the final tournament.
Vahid Halilhodzic’s men will close out the campaign on Tuesday, September 5 at Saudi Arabia in Jeddah.