Japan became the first country to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, after 1-1 tie with Australia this morning.
The Samurai Blue needed just a point to reach the finals next summer, with a stoppage-time penalty by Keisuke Honda sealing their passage from Group B in Asian qualifying. Japan’s dream look to be on hold, as Tommy Oar put the Socceroos 1-0 up in the 82nd minute. But a handball by Matthew McKay in extra time set up the penalty for Honda, who duly smashed home the decisive kick to spark scenes of jubilation at the final whistle.
In an open game in the first half, both teams had chances to score with Fulham’s ‘keeper Mark Schwarzer saving Shinji Kagawa’s shot from close range. Later, Brett Holman fed a through ball to Robbie Kruse who fired a right-footed shot that Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima knocked down with an outstretched arm.
The last gasp goal in Saitama secured Japan a place in the prestigious tournament for the fifth-time running. As for Japan’s opponents Australia, they now have two key home games against Jordan and Iraq to try and seal qualification to their third-consecutive World Cup appearance, after they’d previously only ever made the 1974 finals.
New York Red Bulls star Tim Cahill was certainly proud of his teams display, as they look to seal their passage to Brazil in the next few weeks.
But back to Japan, just how will they fare in South America next summer? We will get a pretty good indication in the Confederations Cup, which starts on June 15 in Brazil, and sees Japan in the same group as Brazil, Mexico and Italy. Without doubt we will see how strong this Japan side is after they tore through qualifying in the AFC region.
With Shinji Kagawa, Honda and Yuto Nagatomo, they’ve got a solid core of experienced players who play in the top leagues across Europe. The Samurai Blue have never made it into the quarterfinals of the World Cup. If their key players can stay fit and Japan build on their appearance in this summer’s Confederations Cup, who knows?
I will certainly back them to get past the round of 16, which would be a landmark moment for Japanese and Asian soccer.