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Japan vs Australia

FIFA World Cup - 2018 Qualifiers - Asian Region - Round 3 - Group B - Match 9
Japan vs Australia
at Saitama Stadium, Japan on 2017-08-31T10:30:00
Score: 2-0 (1-0)
Official Info: Socceroos
Previous Match: Chile vs Australia
Next Match: Australia vs Thailand

The big news in the lead up to this match was that the U.A.E. defeated Saudi Arabia. This was a massive boost to our chances as it left the Saudis level with us on points and goal difference. Provided we beat Thailand, a draw against Japan might be enough. There was even talk of a win over Japan seeing us through, but I found this to be premature. Japan desperately needed a result too and I don't think we've beaten them at home.

The match itself was actually at a friendly time and on free-to-air. As luck would have it, I had to go out at kick-off time. So I set the "tape" and started watching when I got home.

We were under a lot of pressure early on. Japan was out to make a statement and looking to exploit an error from us. For the first 20-25 minutes it felt a bit like we were just holding on. However, we slowly made our way into the game and started to get some possession and create some promising moves. Japan seemed to be making more of theirs though. At the 40-minute mark I was just starting to think we'd managed to avoid an error and would be happy to go into the break at 0-0. And then disaster, Japan scored. Brad Smith will cop the blame for this and while I feel sorry him, he did lose his man. 0-1 at half-time.

At half-time, it was getting late and I felt we were going to struggle from then on. So I checked the final result. Groan: 0-2. I didn't watch the second half.

The Saudis' loss is even more valuable now. We're level on points but we're down by two on goal difference. The equation is pretty simple, we need to better the Saudis'. If they lose to Japan, we need a draw; if they draw, we need a win. If they win, we need to better their winning margin by three (or maybe two under some circumstances). I actually feel pretty comfortable about that. I think we could run up four or five against Thailand.

That said, there are several factors that are not in our favour. First and foremost, as I hypothesised after our last match, the timezones mean that the Saudis play after our match is finished. So they will know exactly what they need to do. Further, their opponents, Japan, have qualified, so Japan could send their B team, experiment with their line-up or simply not try very hard. And finally, we've struggled in front of goal in this group, typically scoring just one or two goals, and making it to three on just one occasion, ironically against the Saudis'.

So we're left needing a big win on Tuesday, followed by a nervous wait over night.