• Thomas Pombart

Breaking down Australia's heartbreaking defeat to Japan in Saitama

Graham Arnold made several changes in a narrow 2-1 defeat against Japan, as the Socceroos failed to capitalise on the opportunity to edge closer to qualification for Qatar in 2022.


Ao Tanaka, who was left unmarked after a defensive mistake from Aziz Behich, fired a shot straight past Matt Ryan as the Japanese took a 1-0 lead in under 10 minutes.

Tanaka celebrates the opening goal of the contest. (AFP)


Australia had a penalty shout denied in the second half despite referee Abdulrahman Al-Jassim initially awarding a penalty.


The VAR deemed the incident to have occurred outside the box.


Nonetheless, Ajdin Hrustic stepped up and whipped the free-kick around the Japanese wall and off the crossbar to equalise for 1-1.

Hrustic's stunning free kick had resorted parity for Graham Arnold's men. (Getty Images)


It was Japan, though, who took the three points in a heart-crushing defeat for Australia.


The Socceroos defence allowed Junya Ito to hammer in a shot which forced a palm from Matthew Ryan.


But the ball didn't stay out, as it rebounded from the post and in off of Aziz Behich.


Japan held on to clinch a 2-1 victory.

Japan celebrate their late winner on the touchline, ending a poor run of form in qualifying. (Kyodo)


Aziz Behich needed to be subbed at halftime


Behich was at fault for the first goal the Socceroos conceded and was consistently caught out of position in transition in the first half.

Ito and Japan exposed the left-hand side of the Australian defence by concentrating their attacks down their right side.

The midfield four did not work for Australia

Hrustic, the scorer of the equaliser, often found himself caught in two minds about whether to break the lines and progress the ball from deep.

Meanwhile, Mooy, Rogic, and Irvine were playing in more pivotal positions to compensate for the lack of defensive energy from the attacking players.

This system did not work as Japan consistently pressed Australia high and forced mistakes.

Those mistakes, mainly from Rogic, Mooy, and Hrustic, enabled Japan to transition quickly and pin the Socceroos back deep in their half.

During the game, many fans pointed out that Mooy and Rogic cannot work together in a midfield as they are too lazy.

Australia needs a quality defensive midfielder

Japan exposed Australia’s inability to move the ball further up the pitch and took advantage of a lack of solidity in the centre of midfield consistently throughout the match.

The double-pivot of Irvine and Hrustic was overwhelmed because Rogic and Mooy were reluctant to track back in defence.

Tom Rogic's lack of defensive work compounded Australia's issues, particularly in the first half. (Socceroos)


Australia played into the Japanese press

Australia continued to play into Japanese hands throughout the ninety minutes by forcing the ball over the top.

In these situations, the midfield four needed to be more dynamic to release Hrustic into a more advanced role.

Japan keep qualification hopes alive

Japan has secured a vital three points, which keeps their hopes of qualifying for Qatar alive.

Anything less than a draw would have seen them have a mountain to climb, initially being nine points behind both Saudi Arabia and Australia.