Japan found themselves in trouble after losing to Saudi Arabia in FIFA World Cup qualifying last week. They had two losses from their first three third round qualifying matches and were in danger of digging themselves a deep hole to make it to Qatar 2022. Maybe most concerning was they had to play unbeaten Australia in their next contest.
The Samurai Blue proved up to the task, though. Led by Ao Tanaka, who played at Kawasaki Frontale before departing for the German Bundesliga in the summer, and Takuma Asano, who came up at Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Japan beat Australia, 2-1, to pick up a massive win as they chase a spot at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Tanaka put Japan on the right foot when he scored just eight minutes into their contest with the Socceroos. He got to a deflected cross, settled the ball and finished perfectly just inside the far post for the opening tally.
Australia, being the excellent team they are, were not fazed by the early deficit or the passionate crowd at Saitama Stadium 2002. They pushed for an equalizer and they found one in the 69th minute. While a draw would not be a disastrous result for the Samurai Blue, a win would do wonders for their place in Group B and they answered with a flurry of activity in front of the Australia goal in pursuit of that crucial winner.
Four minutes from full time, that winner came. Asano got down the left and brought down a long pass beautifully before hitting a ball across. It was deflected over the goalkeeper’s outstretched hand and to the back post where a Socceroos defender tried in vain to clear it, putting it into the net and delivering Japan all three points.
The win puts Japan on six points from four matches, leaving them level on points with Oman for third place in Group B. The top two teams in the group will qualify for the World Cup, with third place going to a playoff. The Samurai Blue are three points back of second-place Australia and six points behind first-place Saudi Arabia as players return to their clubs for a month before the November international window when qualifying picks up again.