Australia 3-1 Japan
What a terrific game. Best of the tournament so far, in my humble opinion. Australia, as I said before, are a capable team, and are a decent bet for a run to the quarter-finals. One would hope, knowing the self-aggrandisement of Australians when it comes to sport, that they don’t go any further. If they do, that enormously irritating sunny self-confidence that they have might just carry them all the way. They certainly look more confident and more attacking. Japan aren’t the team that they were four years ago, and that team only made the second round of the World Cup then off the back of the teams that played against them not really turning up. Looking elsewhere, I’m surprised to to see Japan widely backed (including pre-match on ITV) to finish second to Brazil in the group.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the number of racial slurs available in this match, Clive Tyldesley has his best match of the tournament so far. A quick hello to “everyone watching in Earl’s Court” and a warning for Londoners that live with Australians to “move out for the night, because you won’t get any sleep”, and that’s about it. Australia look like the stronger team initially, with Viduka forcing a fine double save from Kawaguchi. There was no doubt that Japan’s goal was a foul. Two defenders bounced of Mark Schwarzer – perhaps the referee was swayed by the fact that the enormous Schwarzer looked so much bigger than the attacking players. This isn’t meant as an ethnic slur. He genuinely is massive.
In the second half, Kawaguchi seemed to be standing alone against the American forwards. He did a pretty good job of it too, including one magnificent save from a direct free-kick, but everything changed with the introduction of Tim Cahill and John Aloisi. Aloisi is probably sick to the back teeth of being referred to as being a player who had “a spell with Portsmouth”, but he found something rather bigger to be remembered for today. Ironically, when the equalizer came, it was an error from the previously excellent Kawaguchi decided to come too far out to claim a throw, missed it, and allowed Cahill to score. A minute or so later, Cahill was at the other end, blatantly tripping a Japanese forward. So, it was Australia’s day after all.
The failure to award the penalty was the pivotal moment of the match. Barely two minutes later, Cahill was given too much space and put them ahead. In the dying seconds, Aloisi put it beyind doubt, although by this time the Japanese were already out on their feet.
I’m glad that my crystal-ball reading abilities seem to be intact. Australia looked strong going forward and their confidence will be going through the roof going into their next match. As for Japan… well, I think it’s going to be a pretty early sayonara for them. They were better than Iran were yesterday, but not by much, and I think that tells you about as much as you need to know.