Japan have become the first team to qualify for World Cup 2014 in Brazil following a 1-1 draw against Australia in Saitama. The point means that the Blue Samurai are now guaranteed to finish in one of the top two spots in Asian Qualifying Group B and can relax ahead of their final match away to Iraq next week. Japan could still be mathematically be pipped for first place in the group by the Iraqis, who can join them on 14 points if they win their last three games, starting with a visit to Oman later today, but it’s an unlikely scenario and won’t worry the Japanese too much even if it happens.
Australia now occupy second spot in the group with seven points from six games, ahead of Jordan only on goal difference and a point clear of Oman, with the Iraqis a point further back but having a game in hand on the latter three teams. The Socceroos know that they now have qualification in their own hands with two home matches against Jordan and Iraq left on the agenda and two wins will definitely seal their place in the finals.
It was a tight match in Saitama with both teams reluctant to take too many risks in the knowledge that a draw would be a decent result. Neither manager made a change until the 72nd minute when Australia introduced Dario Vidosic and Japan left it until ten minutes from time before shuffling their pack, but soon after they did so they fell behind to a Tommy Oar goal and responded by bringing on Havenaar and Kiyotake to push for an equaliser. Their late pressure paid off as Matt McKay handled inside his own box and Keisuke Honda smashed home the resultant penalty in injury time.