Australia, Japan draw 1-1 in World Cup qualifier

Luke Wilkshire’s 70th-minute penalty allowed 10-man Australia to

salvage a 1-1 draw against Japan on Tuesday in a battle of the

Asian heavyweights in World Cup qualifying.

Australia played a man down after substitute Mark Milligan

picked up his second booking in the 55th minute, and Japan

capitalized 10 minutes later when Keisuke Honda dribbled along the

byline and passed perfectly across the face of goal for Yuzo

Kurihara to tap in.

Wilkshire equalized five minutes later after Saudi referee

Khalil Al Ghamdi awarded a contentious penalty against Atsuto

Uchida for pulling back Alex Brosque on the goal line as Australia

took a corner.

Australia came close to snatching a win: veteran center back

Sasa Ognenovski hit the bar with an angled shot in the 77th minute

and Wilkshire’s curling free kick in the last minute of regulation

time was well saved by Eiji Kawashima.

That free kick was awarded when Kurihara was sent off,

collecting his second yellow card for bundling Brosque to the

ground in an off-the-ball incident. That ended an eventful night

for Kurihara, who as well as scoring his team’s goal, also denied

Australia a goal in the 20th minute, blocking a shot on the line

when it appeared certain the hosts would score.

The drama went right to the wire – when Honda was lining up a

free kick only for Ghamdi to decide he was taking too long to take

the shot and blew the whistle for full time, to the bemusement of

Japan’s players and bench.

That capped a series of contentious refereeing decisions that

raised the ire of both teams. Milligan, who went on to replace

injured playmaker Mark Bresciano in the 13th minute, collected his

second yellow card when attempted to volley a shot at goal only for

Uchida to threw himself in front of the ball and appear to take the

kick to his body.

Australia coach Holger Osieck later disputed the decision,

saying he didn’t think Milligan touched Uchida and in any case it

didn’t amount to a dangerous foul.

Osieck said the Australia adjusted well after losing Bresciano

to a hip injury and again after Milligan was sent off. He and

captain Lucas Neill praised the fighting comeback.

”The way things went with the red card, we had to dig in,”

Neill said. ”A little bit of Aussie spirit came into play. We

could have gone on to win it (but) we’ll take the draw. Both teams

will be happy with it.

”This is arguably the best Japanese team that’s ever been put

out, let’s give credit to the Australian boys.”

Japan’s midfield, marshalled by Makoto Hasebe and with

Manchester United-bound Shinji Kagawa making penetrating runs,

controlled much of the possession, yet Australia came closest to

scoring in the first half. Aside from the shot blocked by Kurihara,

Kawashima was forced into a double save in the sixth minute when he

blocked goal-bound shots from Tim Cahill and Wilkshire.

Cahill was recalled to the starting lineup after watching

Australia’s opening match from the sidelines and made an impact up

front in combination with Brosque, creating both the main

first-half chances and generally giving the Japanese defense

trouble with his strong runs and headed flick-ons.

But Honda, who scored three goals in Japan’s 6-0 win over Jordan

last Friday, and Kawaga were more dangerous at the other end,

providing opportunities that went begging.

”We would have liked to win and we played to win but a 1-1 draw

away is not a bad result,” Honda was quoted as saying. ”They have

a lot of experienced players and controlled the pace at the start

but we gradually got into the game and found our rhythm. We had

more chances from midway through the second half until the

end.”

Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said he came into the match

thinking he’d settle for a draw, but as the game developed he

considered the result to be two points squandered.

”It was difficult for us early on but we got through that and

had some good spells,” he said. ”We have only conceded one goal

(in the fourth round) and that was a penalty. The players have

battled well.”

Japan, which scored nine goals in its opening two wins at home,

leads Group B with seven points. Australia has two points from a

scoreless draw at Oman last Friday and the home draw in

Brisbane.