Keisuke Honda’s injury-time penalty gave Japan a place at the 2014 World Cup after a 1-1 draw with Australia.
Alberto Zaccheroni unsurprisingly named his usual starting XI, lining up a four-man back line featuring Maya Yoshida and Yasuyuki Konno as centre-backs with Atsuto Uchida and Yuto Nagatomo on the flanks. He stuck with centre-forward Ryoichi Maeda up front, with Keisuke Honda as attacking midfielder just behind him and with the Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki duo operating on the wings.
Holger Osieck left out the injured Alex Brosque (groin) and Mile Jedinak (ankle) to field a similar 4-2-3-1 formation but it was more a kind of 4-4-2 with Holman pairing Tim Cahill up top, while Tommy Oar and Kruse was pushing up and down the flanks.
The game ran a familiar theme, with Japan keeping possession and Socceroos relying on long ball sto get Japanese defence out of shape. With both Yasuhito Endo and Makoto Hasebe controlling Mark Milligan and Mark Bresciano in deep midfield, Australia wasn’t able to provide much through balls but it wasn’t clearly Osieck’s game plan as Socceroos play was flanks oriented in the way to provide nice crosses to Cahill. Unfortunately for him, Australians nver provided good crosses. With Endo and Hasebe facing Milligan and Bresciano, Honda was free to exploit gaps between the lines and he was good doing so. Japan’s offense was built around quick, short, tiki-taka style passes between Honda, Kagawa and Okazaki playing near to the penalty box, while Uchida or Nagatomo provided width overlapping on the outside. But Endo and Hasebe was slow at distribution and the whole offense were rarely sharp. Mark Schwartzer made some good saves keeping Australia in the game on short-range shots from Kagawa and Okazaki but Japan produced few goal scoring chances compared to time of possession. Australia remained faithful to long balls but they have a great scoring chance when a rare through ball punished a high Japan’s defensive line allowing Holman to face 1 vs 1 Eiji Kawashima. By the way Japanese goalkeeper was able to block the shot, nullyfing Australian chance.
Just 15 minutes inside the second half, Zaccheroni made a change taking off Maeda and inserting a third centre-back in Yuzo Kurihara, switching to a 3-4-3 pattern. The change was clearly made to gave Japan a 3 vs 2 edge in the middle of the back line and more height in preparation for the second part of the half when Socceroos probably would have sent more long balls into the penalty box. While Japanese offense was swift, specially on the left side where Nagatomo operated, Japanese continued to wast scoring chances, so Zaccheroni clearly went to play for the draw. With this goal on the mind, his substitutions made sense. But things get worse when Oar’s 82nd effort gave Australia an unexpected lead. In the injury-time Matt Mackay handled a cross and Honda converted the obvious penalty giving Japan the needed point to reach 2014 World Cup.
Clearly, Honda’s penalty saved Zaccheroni’s decision to swtich to a three-man back line whithin the game. Zaccheroni’s thought made sense as his team looked unable to score. Although Japan dominated the first half and they was effective playing their kind of football and putting Australia under pressure, Samurai Blue were unable to close the contest. On the other hand, Osieck’s idea to play long balls withouth Josh Kennedy on the field has not been a good one. Kawashima’s mistake allowed Australia some hope but it was more than the Socceroos deserved.