Melbourne (AFP) – Australia came from behind through a Mile Jedinak penalty to grab a 1-1 draw against Japan to remain unbeaten in Asian World Cup qualifiers in Melbourne on Tuesday.
The Blue Samurai rocked the Socceroos with a fifth-minute goal from midfielder Genki Haraguchi but skipper Jedinak retrieved a point in a tense game with his spot kick.
Australia have not beaten Japan for seven years, while the Japanese have still to win a World Cup qualifier in Australia.
Australia stay a point ahead of Japan in Group B and remain unbeaten in four qualifiers on the road to Russia 2018.
“We got caught with a sucker punch trying to force things and they sat back very deep and sweated on that pass in the middle,” Jedinak said.
“We regrouped at halftime and we were told to have a reaction. There looked like only one team winning the game, it was unfortunate we didn’t get that second goal.”
Japan struck early after defender Trent Sainsbury gave away possession and Keisuke Honda released Haraguchi to advance on the Australian goal.
Haraguchi slid the ball through the legs of the advancing Matt Ryan to give the Blue Samurai the shock early lead.
The Socceroos struggled to find any rhythm against the Japanese, who sat back and played on the counter, primarily through their AC Milan superstar Honda.
The misfiring Australians played narrow through the midfield but they were stymied by the close-marking Japanese defence.
But Australia grabbed a lifeline shortly after the resumption when Haraguchi brought down Tomi Juric for a penalty which skipper Jedinak rammed home to equalise.
Both teams had their chances to take all three points.
Goalkeeper Matt Ryan made a super diving save to deny Yu Kobayashi’s goal-bound header and then dived at the feet of Takuma Asano to prevent the substitute from scoring.
Defender Matthew Spiranovic came close for Australia when he headed just over the bar from a Massimo Luongo free kick in the final minutes.
Tim Cahill, in his 94th international, came on as substitute with 20 minutes left but could not break the deadlock in his chase for his sixth goal against Japan.
The Socceroos have played Japan 24 times in full internationals, winning seven games, losing eight and the remaining nine matches finishing level.
Australia next play Thailand in Bangkok and Japan host Saudi Arabia next month.
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