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Socceroos vs Japan, World Cup 2022 qualifying: Australia’s hopes of automatic qualification dashed

It’s those painful playoffs, yet again.

Australia’s hopes of automatic qualification for a fifth straight World Cup are over after a 2-0 home defeat to Japan that leaves them needing two playoff victories if they are to make it to Qatar 2022.

Heavily undermanned and low on confidence, the Socceroos loss is their first in a live World Cup qualifier at home in 40 years.

In front of 41,852 fans on a wet night at Stadium Australia, the defeat means Australia will almost certainly have to beat the UAE in a one-legged playoff on neutral ground and then the fifth-placed South American nation in order to appear on football’s biggest stage, once more.

“We had a lot of key players out tonight. I don’t want to use excuses and I take responsibility for the results,” Socceroos coach Graham Arnold said.

“It’s been a tough two years but some people don’t want to hear that.

“It’s always difficult (through the playoffs) to qualify for the World Cup. At the

end of the day, we’ve got to brush ourselves off.”

After a tense encounter, a late double from Japanese substitute Kaoru Mitoma sealed Japan’s path to the World Cup and left Australia reeling from a qualifying campaign that has fallen apart disastrously with just one win in their last six games.

The result could have been different however if not for a poor refereeing decision to deny Australia a goal after 25 minutes.

The Socceroos were cruelly denied an opener when Japan put the ball in their own net off a corner. Trent Sainsbury was adjudged to have fouled the Japanese goalkeeper, Gonda in the build-up but the contact was minimal at most.

“It was probably 50-50 but could have gone our way. We haven’t seemed to get many of those decisions our way in this campaign,” Arnold said.

But to focus solely on that harsh decision would sell Japan, and in particular Liverpool star Takumi Minamino, short.

The dynamic attacker would have a shot on goal in the opening minute in a sign of how the clash would likely unfold and then proceeded to torture the Australian defence for the remainder of the clash with several dangerous efforts.

If not for Mat Ryan in the Australian goal, the Socceroos demise may have come about earlier but the skipper will be disappointed with the second Japan goal that squeezed under his hands, even if his nation’s fate was already determined.

Along with Ryan, Milos Degenek was solid in the heart of the Socceroos defence while Ajdin Hrustic looked the most likely in attack for Australia. His stinging free-kick from 35 yards out on 46 minutes was Australia’s best effort of the second half.

LIVERPOOL STAR SHINES

Japanese and Liverpool forward Takumi Minamino was the best credentialed player coming into the game and he proved that he was a level above any outfield player on the pitch within the first half. The star number ten set the tone with a shot on goal in the opening minute and went on to have five big efforts on goal across the first 45 minutes including two headers that hit the crossbar.

Socceroos v Japan
Camera IconThe Socceroos will have to take the long road to try to qualify for the World Cup. Toby Zerna Credit: News Corp Australia

STRIKER DILEMMA

Graham Arnold faced a big call over his starting striker and ended up opting for Mitch Duke over Bruno Fornaroli and Jamie Maclaren, with the latter’s decision to miss the next game in Saudi Arabia due to his wedding not helping his cause. The target man was presented with two big opportunities in the first half to open the scoring and should have done a lot better with a free header. His knock down for Hrustic early in the second half was sublime however and almost led to an Aussie opener. He was taken off for Bruno Fornaroli on 68 minutes allowing the born and bred Uruguayan to make his Australian debut.

BAPTISM OF FIRE

There would be few Socceroos debuts in a game of this magnitude like the one Gianni Stensness experienced for Australia. The 23-year-old former Central Coast Mariners midfielder who now plays for Viking in Norway was given a surprise first start in this must-win game and while he handled himself adequately, his selection further underlined how undermanned Australia was.

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