Saturday, June 28, 2008

History repeats as Japan draws Australia

History repeats as Japan draws Australia.
If there was a sense of inevitability ahead of the draw for the final round of World Cup qualifying in Asia, neither Japan coach Takeshi Okada, nor Australia coach Pim Verbeek let it show.

Both reacted casually when Japan and Australia were drawn together in Group A, along with Middle-Eastern sides Qatar and Bahrain and potential dark horses Uzbekistan. The two teams met in a classic 2006 FIFA World Cup encounter, in which the Socceroos came from behind to register a thrilling 3-1 group-stage win courtesy of a late Tim Cahill brace and an emphatic John Aloisi strike.

In a statement released by the JFA, Japan coach Okada claimed that "(w)hen you think about the destinations and travel involved, it probably could have been worse."

He is right.

While Japan and Australia will both feel confident of booking one of the two qualification places available in their group, Group B of qualifying will cause nightmares for fans of Korea Republic, Iran, DPR Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - all of whom have at one time qualified for the finals of the World Cup.

Nevertheless Japan and Australia will no doubt eye each other warily in the build-up to their two clashes, set down for February 2 in Japan and June 17 in Australia.

While most Japanese fans were gracious in defeat following their team's catastrophic collapse in Kaiserlautern two years ago, scratch the surface of the average Blue Samurai supporter and a sense of injustice still lingers.

Japan were just six minutes away from beating the Socceroos, with Zico's side wilting under the brutal summer sun at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion.

History repeats as Japan draws Australia.
Both Zico and Guus Hiddink are long gone from their adopted national teams, and an Australian outfit that has often been accused of technical deficiencies can no longer rely solely on their superior fitness levels to get them over the line.

That was made abundantly clear when Japan beat Australia on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the quarter-finals of the 2007 Asian Cup.

Looming large as a potential obstacle for both teams is Uzbekistan; a team studded with European-based players who also turned in an admirable performance at the 2007 Asian Cup.

The Uzbekis will be looking to spring some upsets along the way in a 10-match qualification campaign, with the two third-placed finishers in each group squaring off against each other for the right to face the champions of Oceania in a winner-takes-all playoff.

Both Japan and Australia will feel confident of avoiding that scenario, but with both sides itching for revenge and Australia looking to flex their muscle in their first ever Asian qualification campaign, the fledgling rivalry between the two countries could be set to boil over once again.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman &

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