Japan was on the verge of being eliminated from the 2022 FIFA World Cup AFC qualifiers. Aziz Behich saved the day for his Samurai Blue victory over Australia at the Saitama Stadium 2002. These three points allowed Japan’s beleaguered head coach Hajime Moriasu breathing room and kept Japan’s hopes alive of qualifying for next year’s World Cup.
Japan needed a win in order to remain in contention for Qatar 2022. Japan started in the 8th minute. Ao Tanaka, recognizing Behich’s inability to clear away a cross, managed to grab the ball and score the opener against Mat Ryan in Australia.
Australia finished second at the Saitama Stadium 2002, having won 11 WC qualifying matches – a record in world soccer. Ryan of Real Sociedad made a number of important saves that kept the Socceroos alive. The away team lost the ball often to their Samurai Blue counterparts throughout the first half. Although Graham Arnold’s men showed improvement in the second half, Japan’s ineffectiveness as an attack allowed them to take control.
After Hidemasa morita brought down Ajdin Hrustic, Australia received a lifeline at the 69th minute. After consulting the VAR, the referee decided to give Australia a penalty. However, he later reduced his decision to a free kick. Australia was understandably upset by this decision. However, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Hrustic did not make any mistakes with the free kick, leaving Shuichi Naga to draw the scoreline at level.
Although the away side was trying to claw their way to a single point, which is a good result considering they have never beat Japan in Japan since 2009. However, disaster struck in the 86th minute. After a Takuma Asano chipped attempt to score, Giresunspor defender Behich, who was sub-par throughout, managed to get past his goalkeeper and bag home.
Japan’s World Cup hopes were rekindled by the win. Although the pressure is still on Hajime – with the #MoriyasuOut campaign continuing in social media – Hajime will feel relieved that his position is secure until the next match.
Australia lost their winning streak and turned their attention to their next opponent: Saud.