Australia failed to turn a dominant performance into victory as Japan held them to a 1-1 draw in Melbourne.
In a meeting of Group B’s heavyweights in the Asian section of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Genki Haraguchi gave Japan an early lead, but went from hero to zero after the break, conceding a penalty from which Mile Jedinak levelled the scores.
The Socceroos had the vast majority of possession at the Etihad Stadium, but Ange Postecoglou’s side were unable to attack with the purpose required to test their opponents for the vast majority of the game.
Australia remain unbeaten in the group with eight points from four games, with Japan unable to strike a blow to one of their main rivals for the two qualifying spots as they look to gather momentum back after their early loss to United Arab Emirates in the group.
Japan’s slick counter-attack paid early dividends when Trent Sainsbury erred in Australia’s attempts to play out from the back and Keisuke Honda toe-poked into the path of Haraguchi, who maintained his calm to slot home.
The hosts were the dominant side in terms of possession, but soporific with the ball and unable to hurt Japan, with the visitors’ greater sharpness presenting Haraguchi and then Honda chances to extend the lead.
Jedinak’s long-range free-kick drew the only save of meaning in the first half out of Shusaku Nishikawa as the Japanese defence stood firm and the workmanlike Tomi Juric and Apostolis Giannou lacked the craft to unlock them.
However, the visitors’ composure deserted them early in the second half as Juric bustled into the penalty area before being clumsily felled by Haraguchi and Jedinak did the honours from 12 yards.
Postecoglou introduced Robbie Kruse, Tim Cahill and Mathew Leckie in a bid to freshen up his attack, but their forward forays remained half-paced for the most part.
Indeed Australia had Mat Ryan to thank for preserving a point when he plunged low to his right to keep out a firm header from Shinji Kagawa, maintaining their one-point advantage over Japan in the group.
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