Socceroos will have to do it the hard way after being outplayed by Japan

The Socceroos suffered late heartbreak against Japan and will be forced to take the long way to the Qatar World Cup.

Japan toyed with a seriously undermanned Australian team before Kaoru Mitoma, an 84th minute substitute scored in the 89th and 94th minutes of the 2-0 win.

Australia had their chances and they pressed for a goal knowing a draw was likely not enough. They defeat means they will fiish third in the group and then face a cross pool playoff against either the UAE or Lebanon from group A.

If they win that they will need to beat the fifth placed South American team – a very tall order on Thursday’s evidence.

In driving rain on a sloppy pitch, it was a frantic opening 45 minutes with both teams creating plenty of chances. Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino, on loan at Southampton, could have had a first half hat trick, hitting the cross bar twice, while Mat Ryan was forced into several big saves.

Japan were getting too much time and space through Australia’s midfield where they most missed some of the big names among the 11 absent regulars. But on 25 minutes the Socceroos thought they’d opened the scoring when Gianni Stesness bundled in the ball from a corner, only to have it disallowed.

Referee Nawaf Shukralla ruled that Trent Sainsbury fouled goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda, who never looked like reaching the ball.

It clearly fired up viewers but former Socceroo Mark Milligan could understand why it was ruled out.

“It does feel a little bit soft but if Sainsbury makes any sort of contact on this ball it’s not a foul,” Milligan said. “The simple fact he doesn’t get any contact, that’s why I think it wasn’t overruled.”

While Japan had clear ascendency that wasn’t Australia’s only big chance of the half with Mitchell Duke squandering two excellent opportunities. His first was a glancing shot just wide when the ball arrived at his feet at pace, but with the second he had ample time to pick his spot but headed straight at Gonda from a superb cross from the excellent Ajdin Hrustic.

At half-time Graham Arnold reacted to Japan’s midfield dominance by removing Connor Metcalfe, on a yellow card for a careless grab on 15 minutes, and sent on James Jeggo in an effort to gain a foothold.

The Socceroos started the half brightly and better and Hrustic flashed a shot just wide from the top of the box.

But Japan looked more in control, and more coherent in attack. Only a scuffed finish from Takuma Asano on 61 minutes robbed the visitors of a sumptuous team goal as they had the Aussies chasing shadows across their defensive third.

Arnold gave Bruno Fornaroli a debut on 68 minutes and the 69th minute arrival of Marco Tilio sparked the team into life but the quality was missing in the final third.

Minamino had a chance cleared off the line by Sainsbury on 80 minutes before Mitoma grabbed the first. His second slipped through Ryan’s fingers – a howler that seemed unduly cruel on the man who kept the Socceroos in the contest for so long.

The loss continues a terrible fall from grace for the Australians, who seemed to have the group under control, and will no doubt raise questions as to Arnold’s future in charge.

There will be calls for Football Australia to go for a high profile coach on potential four game contract plus the World Cup.

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