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World Cup Qualifiers

WCQ: Japan’s Samurai Blue Qualify For FIFA World Cup

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SAITAMA, JAPAN - AUGUST 31: Takashi Inui of Japan (L) in action during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Japan and Australia at Saitama Stadium on August 31, 2017 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images)

Vahid Halilhodzic’s Samurai Blue of Japan are back in the big time for another rodeo. With the Saitama Stadium 2002, the de facto national stadium of the Japan national football team being the usual fortress that it was, the outcome was never really in doubt. Goals from Takuma Asano (41′) and Yosuke Ideguchi (82′) gave Japan a 2-0 shutout win over Ange Postcoglou’s Socceroos of Australia, punching their ticket to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

If Japan can choose to maintain their form against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, it will open the door for the Socceroos to finish their World Cup Qualification AFC Third Round at the Melbourne Rectaangular Stadium strong against already eliminated Thailand. However, Australia have been winless in their last five matches and drew 2-2 with the War Elephants on Nov. 15 in Bangkok.

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Australia were proficient in possession (66.5 to 33.5 percent) but were outclassed in duels success (53.4 to 46.6 percent), aerial duels won (57.7 to 42.3 percent), interceptions (32 to 12) and corners (eight to one). The Guardian notes that a lack of players development could see the wheels fall off by the first week of September.

“The most pressing is finding a regular left-sided defender. Aziz Behich started the last international against Chile but was one of seven players cut from the initial 30-man squad for Thursday’s match. Alex Gersbach also featured at left wingback during the Confederations Cup but he sat on the bench in Saitama. Jason Davidson was Australia’s left-sided defender during the Asian Cup final in 2015 while James Meredith has lined up in previous Russia 2018 qualifiers.

“The challenge longer-term is potential internationals suffering from a lack of game time. Thursday night was [Brad] Smith’s 16th full international cap. At club level the 23-year old has made just 17 league appearances, a career total rising to 29 including cup competitions. Signed by Bournemouth in the Premier League a year ago for a fee in the region of $10m, Smith has featured only once this season, in the EFL Cup. If he was betrayed by indecision at crucial moments against Japan, it’s hardly surprising.”

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“We’ve got to play well first. And being at home will make a difference. Unfortunately we’ve got to rely on another result. But we’ll do our job and we’ll see what happens,” Postecoglou said. “It’s a bit hard right now to sum it up but we’re disappointed with the outcome. We had our moments but we never really got control of the game, particularly in midfield. Obvously disappointed.”

Kickoff for Australia vs. Thailand is on Sept. 5 at 3 a.m. PT/6 a.m. ET.

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