Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying, Australia vs Japan, scores, results, next game, news, VAR controversy

Australia has failed to directly qualify for the World Cup in Qatar later this year, and will now be forced into two sudden-death playoffs following a dismal 2-0 defeat to Japan on Thursday night.

On a dreary night for Australian football – perfectly suited by the drizzling rain at Stadium Australia – the Socceroos were thoroughly outplayed and outclassed by the Samurai Blue, though it took until the dying minutes for the visitors to finally (and deservedly) break the deadlock.

Japanese substitute Kaoru Mitoma struck twice in the final stages of the clash to confirm Japan’s qualification to a seventh-straight World Cup, ensuring Australia will finish third in their Asian qualification group.

Though the Australians had a first-half goal controversially ruled out due to a minor foul on Japan’s keeper during a corner, Japan could well have put the game beyond reach in the first period – especially if Liverpool striker Takumi Minamino converted a host of gilt- edged chances, instead of twice striking the post.

With the final game against top-placed Saudi Arabia on Wednesday morning now a dead rubber, the Socceroos will need to pick up the pieces of a qualifying campaign that started brightly but has fallen apart in recent months.

The defeat extends a winless run against Japan to nine matches over 13 years, and was the first loss in a ‘live’ World Cup qualifier at home (where the result mattered to Australia’s qualification hopes) in over four decades.

The Socceroos will in June face a sudden-death match against Asia’s other third-placed team – potentially the UAE – with the victor progressing to a final do-or-die battle with South America’s fifth-placed team, which could potentially be Uruguay.

On the record of Thursday’s performance, qualification to a fifth-straight World Cup finals is on very thin ice.

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Aussie goal controversially ruled out! | 00:39

In front of 41,852 on a rainy night at Accor Stadium, previously known as Stadium Australia, Australia’s porous structures and complete lack of ideas were exposed time after time.

On the same hallowed turf where the Socceroos booked their spot in the 2006 World Cup thanks to John Aloisi’s iconic penalty against Uruguay, the same patch of grass where Mile Jedinak bagged three goals against Honduras to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Graham Arnold’s men needed to do something special. Instead, the second-string Socceroos produced a performance that was wholly forgettable.

Coach Graham Arnold said: “I think we battled hard tonight. I think we left everything out there … at the end of the day the quality of Japan (did) us. ”

Much of the build-up to the game centered on Australia’s poor preparation, hampered as it was by a raft of injuries and Covid-19 enforced absences. Arnold himself, of course, added to the chaotic build-up by breaching Covid-19 insulation and earning a $ 25k fine in the process.

The list of absences – 12 missed camp, while two players were unfit for the game – forced Arnold into radical selection decisions. Very few paid dividends.

The team’s most consistent scorer in Jamie Maclaren was only afforded a handful of minutes off the bench. Instead, Arnold opted for Mitch Duke – who hadn’t scored in nine games for his club in Japan’s second division – to lead the line.

Bereft of ideas, the Socceroos largely resorted to sending long ball after long ball in his direction, hoping the ball would deflect off his head in a fortuitious manner.

Sorely lacking in creativity due to the absences of veterans Tom Rogic, Aaron Mooy, and Jackson Irvine, the Socceroos mastermind instead pushed Ajdin Hrustic – Australia’s only regular player in Europe’s five biggest leagues – out of his regular playmaker position into a second striker role.

And with the 40-plus games of experience each of the aforementioned midfield trio offer missing, Arnold opted for a debutant and fellow youngster with a single international appearance in the heart of midfield.

That is not to say that the inexperienced duo of Gianni Stensness and Connor Metcalfe are not good enough for the Socceroos, merely that a must-win match against a technically gifted, supremely-drilled Japanese side was a brutal baptism of fire. And both wilted under the relentless pressure of the visitors, with Metcalfe yellow-carded after 15 minutes before being hooked at half-time for the more senior James Jeggo.

Besides the introduction of Jeggo, Arnold’s substitutions were similarly ineffective. Maclaren came on too late. Bruno Fornaroli – at 34 Australia’s oldest-ever debutant – was thrown into the fray with 20 minutes to make his mark, only to be forced to chase long balls in a hopeless waste of his skills. There was a third debutant in Ben Folami, who was on the park only long enough to witness Japan’s celebrations begin.

For all the absentees and the inexperience of Australia’s line-up, it was a complete tactical and structural failure that was truly at the core of the humiliating defeat.

The Socceroos were mismatched and uncoordinated in their structures from front to back, defensively porous and ineffective going forward.

Arnold said after the game: “I don’t want to use any excuses. At the end of the day I take responsibility for the result. ”

That statement was, however, sandwiched by two points: the players missing and the inexperience of his line-up; and that “It’s been a very tough two years” owing to Covid-19.

Having won a world-record 11 consecutive qualifiers earlier in this campaign, the team has now claimed victory just once in the last six matches – a 4-0 win over lowly Vietnam.

Arnold’s future – like the Socceroos’ World Cup hopes – is now under a dark cloud.

Australia had a goal controversially ruled out.Source: Channel 10

AS IT HAPPENED

It didn’t take long for Japan to take control of the fixture.

There was an early warning sign inside the first half-minute when Takumi Minamino, Liverpool’s supremely talented attacker, turned and unleashed a shot inside the area that fortunately only found Ryan’s chest. It was to be the first of five chances Minamino would have in the first half alone, twice striking the bar – which on one occasion sent the ball bouncing down onto the goal-line before spinning to safety.

Japan looked more comfortable on the ball in the early stages, with Australia pushing deep into their own half and unable to pass out from the back under pressure.

Australia’s inexperienced midfield were losing the ball in the middle of the park all too easily. In the 15th minute, Metcalfe coughed up the ball on the halfway line and proceeded to rugby-tackle his opponent, earning a yellow card.

Trent Sainsbury of the Socceroos and referee Nawaf Abdullah Shukrallah were at loggerheads over the call.Source: Getty Images

Japan frequently carried the ball to the edge of Australia’s area, creating half-chances as the Socceroos struggled to track the canny, intelligent movements of the Japanese forwards.

Ryan was forced into a brilliant save at his near post from Yuto Nagatomo in the 18th minute as yet another well-worked passing move took them down the left byline, with Nagatomo sending a low cross fizzing in which Ryan dived out to parry.

Ryan was forced into another diving save in the 22nd minute when Asano was played behind the lines with a delightfully-weighted chip from Endo. As Asano raced into the box, he attempted to round the on-rushing Ryan but the gloveman was up to the task and deflected the ball away. It was deemed offside by the linesman and play halted, although replays showed the player appeared onside.

But despite being outplayed by visitors for the opening half an hour, Australia looked to have opened the scoring in the 25th minute only for the referee to controversially rule it out.

A corner against the run of play was whipped in by Ajdin Hrustic to the back post, and fumbled into the net at the back post by Japan’s Miki Yamane. But the goal was ruled out for a foul on Japan’s keeper by Trent Sainsbury which was not overturned by VAR.

Sainsbury told Channel 10 after the game: “Obviously I think it should have been given (a goal), I think the keeper was flapping at it, even if my contact wasn’t there, he wasn’t getting the ball. But you know, that’s football, sometimes it goes for you, sometimes against you. ”

Arnold said: “I haven’t seen it back … it’s probably 50-50, could have gone our way. At the end of the day we didn’t seem to get many of those decisions this campaign. “

Mere minutes after Australia’s goal was ruled out, the ball once again fell to Minamino in Australia’s box, and he twisted and turned before unleashing a shot that rolled wide of the back post.

A long-range Connor Metcalfe shot was nearly deflected goalwards by Mitch Duke at the end of another rare counter, but snatched shots on counter-attacks were about the most Australia could conjure.

It was Minamino who came closest when he got on the end of a Junya Ito cross six minutes later and headed the ball past Mat Ryan – but only into the woodwork. In near-identical fashion Minamino twice more headed the ball into the woodwork shortly afterwards, before a fifth shot – another header – looped into Ryan’s hands.

Australia had a second brilliant opportunity to score when Mitch Duke was unmarked in the box and found by a brilliant cross from Ajdin Hrustic, but he only headed the ball to the keeper.

Duke reacts after his miss.Source: Getty Images

Metcalfe was hooked at half-time in favor of veteran steadying influence Jimmy Jeggo in the heart of the pitch. But if it slowed the Japan attack, it did little to ignite Australia’s.

However, Australia did have the first two chances of the second period through Ajdin Hrustic. First, he rifled a long-range free kick which was well saved by Japan’s gloveman Shūichi Gonda. Hardly a minute later, a long ball was headed down by Duke into the path of Hrustic, who twisted and turned before unleashing just wide of the upright from the edge of the area.

Japan took a good quarter of an hour to regain their previous level, with Minamino again the recipient of their first real chance as he poked a ball at Ryan from the middle of the penalty area.

Chances remained at a premium as the second half wore on, with the teams continuing to ring the susbtitutions to little effect: Arnold made Bruno Fornaroli the oldest-ever Australian debutant and also introduced Melbourne City youngster Marco Tilio with 20 minutes remaining, while Jamie Maclaren came off the bench in the 83rd minute.

But Japan were still the most likely – only a diving Trent Sainsbury cleared an 80th-minute Minamino shot from close range, after Japan again played the ball around the box and cut it back to the penalty area.

Then, at long last, Australia came undone – not once but twice in quick succession.

The 24-year-old Mitoma had been on the pitch for perhaps ten minutes when he broke the deadlock in the 89th minute, passing the ball into the back of the net after receiving a cut-back from the byline.

Then in stoppage time Mitoma made it two when he cut in from the left wing, beat four stationary Socceroos defenders before rifling the ball past Australian gloveman Mat Ryan.

The final whistle was almost merciful when it came.

MATCH CENTER: Full line-ups and stats

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