Two giants of the Asian Football Confederation clashed on Tuesday as Australia and Japan drew 1-1 in a massive 2018 World Cup qualifier in Melbourne.
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Over 48,000 fans packed into the Etihad Stadium but the hosts struggled to break down a stubborn Japanese defense.
After just five minutes Genki Haraguchi gave Japan the lead following Keisuke Honda’s superb through ball but instead of pushing for a second, Japan sat back and invited pressure.
Eventually Japan succumbed to the heavy pressure as captain Mile Jedinak (now of Aston Villa, formerly of Crystal Palace) scored the Socceroos’ equalizer from the PK spot after Haraguchi fouled Tommy Juric in the box.
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A handful of Premier League players were involved as Southampton’s Maya Yoshida played the full 90 minutes at center back for Japan, while Bournemouth’s Brad Smith also went the distance for Australia. Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki was an unused sub and former Everton star Tim Cahill came off the bench with just over 20 minutes to go for Australia.
Following the draw both teams sit in a very comfortable position in Group B of AFC qualifying but after dropping points in Saudi Arabia earlier this week, Australia will now go to Iraq and Thailand with a bit more pressure.
Australia sits top of the six-team Group B with eight points from four games, while Japan sits in second with seven points from four matches. The top two teams from both Group A and Group B in AFC qualifying automatically qualifies for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The two teams who finish in third place in each group will then meet in a two-legged playoff for the right to face CONCACAF’s fourth-place team in a two-legged playoff. The winner of that match will then advance to the 2018 World Cup.