Japan becomes 1st team to reach 2014 World Cup
SAITAMA, Japan (AP)
Keisuke Honda made sure Japan became the first team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup by calmly converting a stoppage-time penalty Tuesday to secure a 1-1 draw against Australia.
Tommy Oar had given Australia a 1-0 lead in the 82nd minute with a lob over Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawasahima but a handball by Matthew McKay in the last minute of regulation set up the penalty for Honda, who beat Australia goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer with a left-footed shot into the top of the net. Japan needed at least a point to clinch a spot in next year's World Cup in Brazil from Group B in Asian qualifying.
''I have achieved one of the goals I was hired for,'' Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said. ''But just qualifying is not enough. We have a very strong commitment to playing well so we will aim even higher in Brazil.''
Honda had missed Japan's last two matches - both defeats - but was his team's best player on Tuesday, even before the goal that saved Japan having to wait for the result of a later match between Oman and Iraq to see if it would qualify.
''Honda is a special player,'' Zaccheroni said. ''He has two important qualities: he's strong physically and he's strong mentally. That was his first full 90-minute game since November and he was spectacular.''
Both teams had great scoring chances in the first half, but Schwarzer got his right hand up to block Shinji Kagawa's shot from close range. Later, Brett Holman fed a through ball to Robbie Kruse who fired a right-footed shot that Kawashima knocked down with an outstretched arm.
Japan, eager to secure qualification at home, started the second half strong with Kagawa grazing the crossbar with an angled shot in the 59th minute.
Just when the match looked set to finish in a goalless draw, Oar silenced the crowd of 62,172 when he beat a Japanese defender on the wing and sent a lob toward the net that dipped inside the bar and past the flailing arm of Kawashima.
Schwarzer then stopped Yuto Nagatomo's shot from close range in the 80th minute before Oar put the visitors ahead minutes later.
Australia, bidding for a third straight World Cup appearance, is second in Group B with seven points with two matches remaining. The first two spots earn automatic berths in Brazil.
''We probably just deserved to get the three points,'' captain Lucas Neill said. ''It's a bitter pill to swallow to concede a penalty at the death. We knew this is a fantastic team we're playing against, a very tough place to come and get points. We would have been delighted to get three, but it sets us up nicely now with one.''
Australia's next two matches are both at home against Jordan in Melbourne on June 11 and Iraq on June 18 in Sydney.
''I think everybody is a little bit disappointed but I'm sure in the next few days, once we all calm down, we'll see the positives from the game and take it into next week,'' Oar said.