Saitama - Takuma
Asano and Yosuke Ideguchi were on target as Japan beat Australia 2-0 at
home on Thursday to qualify for their sixth successive Soccer World Cup.
Asano steered home a left-foot volley four minutes before half-time
and Ideguchi sealed the victory with a stunning long-range strike after
82 minutes as Japan became the fourth team to reach next year's finals
The result dealt a major blow to Australia's chances of being one of
the two automatic qualifiers from Group B after their first defeat in
the final round of Asian qualifiers.
The Asian Cup holders get a second bite at the cherry at home to
Thailand on Tuesday when they need to better Saudi Arabia's result
against Japan in Jeddah on the same night.
Japan survived a scare after 38 minutes in Saitama when a Mathew
Leckie shot deflected off Maya Yoshida against post before Asano struck a
psychological blow shortly before the break.
Yuto Nagatomo whipped in a cross from the left and Asano ghosted in to beat goalkeeper Mat Ryan from close range.
Australia threw on veteran Tim Cahill after 70 minutes to try and
inject some spark and his industry almost brought an equaliser for
fellow substitute Tomi Juric.
But Japan effectively ended Aussie hopes when Ideguchi cut inside to
slam a right-foot shot past Ryan from distance for his first
"I was looking for a chance and Yuto put in a great ball," said Asano of his opening goal.
"That's my job - to try and pinch goals and I'm always ready to give everything for Japan."
Japan had never beaten Australia in a World Cup qualifier in seven
previous attempts but the Socceroos - bidding to reach their fourth
straight finals and fifth overall - rarely threatened in a disjointed
"This is for the wonderful fans and for the people of Japan," cried
Japan's under-fire coach Vahid Halilhodzic, whose team have an
unassailable 20 points from nine games in Group B.
Australia and Saudi Arabia have 16 points but the Saudis have a better goal difference.
Ideguchi, meanwhile, appeared lost for words after a wonder strike
that looks like sparing Halilhodzic the sack - at least for now.
"Luckily it hit the target," he said sheepishly. "I'm just glad it
helped us get the win and hopefully I can keep working to get myself
picked for the World Cup."
Brazil and Japan's Asian rivals Iran have already qualified for next year's World Cup, alongside tournament hosts Russia.