Japan will be at the 2022 FIFA World Cup!
The Samurai Blue defeated Australia, 2-0, in Sydney to clinch their spot in the final tournament thanks to a late brace by Kaoru Mitoma.
Japan were on the front foot for most of the match and nearly scored in the first half, but a header by Cerezo Osaka product and current Liverpool star Takumi Minamino hit the bar. It happened again in the 36th minute, with Minamino striking woodwork once more.
Even Australia’s best chances had a J.League influence, as Fagiano Okayama’s Mitchell Duke saw his shot go just wide in the Socceroos’ first good look at goal, then provide the pass for their next-best opportunity.
The match looked destined for a draw, which would have sent Japan to the final matchday in need of a result to qualify, but that changed in the 84th minute when Mitoma was subbed on.
The Kawasaki Frontale product, now a Brighton player and on loan with Belgian leaders Royale Union Saint-Gilloise, needed just five minutes to change the game and find the net.
An 89th minute cross managed to elude three Socceroos defenders, giving Mitoma a chance to sprint in and get his foot on the ball. He swung and put it just inside the post, stunning the Stadium Australia crowd and sending the Japan dugout wild. They were on the cusp of the World Cup.
In stoppage time, Mitoma sealed it. He beat one defender down the left flank, then cut across to beat two more, before firing into the net to wrap up the victory and punch Japan's ticket.
Japan have now qualified for their seventh World Cup, and seventh in a row, a streak that coincides with the rise of the J.League. Every player on the Samurai Blue squad that qualified for Qatar either plays in the J.League or previously played at a J.League club before moving abroad.
Now, they will represent Japan at the World Cup in November!