Takuma Asano and Yosuke Ideguchi were on target yesterday as Japan beat Australia 2-0 at home to qualify for their sixth successive FIFA World Cup finals.
Asano steered home a left-foot volley four minutes before halftime and Ideguchi sealed the victory with a stunning long-range strike after 82 minutes as Japan reached next year’s finals in Russia.
The result dealt a major blow to Australia’s chances of being one of the two automatic qualifiers from Group B after their first defeat in the final round of Asian qualifiers.
The Asian Cup holders get a second bite at the cherry at home to Thailand on Tuesday when they need to better Saudi Arabia’s result against Japan in Jeddah on the same night.
Japan survived a scare after 38 minutes in Saitama when a Mathew Leckie shot deflected off Maya Yoshida against post, before Asano struck a psychological blow shortly before the break.
Yuto Nagatomo whipped in a cross from the left and Asano ghosted in to beat Australia goalkeeper Mat Ryan from close range.
The hosts effectively ended Australia’s hopes when Ideguchi cut inside to slam a right-foot shot past Ryan from distance for his first international goal.
“I was looking for a chance and Yuto put in a great ball,” Asano said of his goal. “That’s my job — to try and pinch goals, and I’m always ready to give everything for Japan.”
Japan had never beaten Australia in a World Cup qualifier in seven previous attempts, but the Socceroos rarely threatened in a disjointed performance.
“This is for the wonderful fans and for the people of Japan,” Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic said.
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