Australia began its journey on the long road to Brazil 2014 with qualifiers against Oman away and played hosts to Japan just four days later. With six points available, The Socceroos took two from the qualifiers, drawing 0-0 with Oman and 1-1 with Japan.
Played in sweltering conditions at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Oman on the 8th of June, Australia had to settle for a point against an Omani side that had most of the possession and advantage in the second half. Having come from Denmark (losing 2-0 there in a friendly the week before), The Socceroos’ best opportunities came throughout the first half and in the final ten minutes of the second. Playing next to Carl Valeri in midfield, Mark Bresciano played a key part in the opening 45’, controlling the ball in midfield and being the focal point setting up attacks. The chances were to no avail, as most Socceroos opportunities went to waste or were saved by Oman ‘keeper Ali al Habsi (who plies his trade with Wigan Athletic of the Barclay’s Premier League).
The second half saw the Socceroos sit deeper in their half as the heat began to take its toll on the Green and Gold. This invited attacks from Oman, led by striker Ali Al Hosni. However, Oman lacked that final ball in for the most part as their closest moment came via Al Hosni; his 57th-minute header drew a fine save from Australia’s Mark Schwarzer. The Socceroos struggled to create clear chances throughout the second, with their best moments in their attack coming from substitutes Archie Thompson and Robbie Kruse. Each came close to finding a winner but were denied by Al Habsi. Both sides had to settle for a point, with the Socceroos facing a short turnaround to face Japan with only a four-day gap.
In a game that showcased the two best teams in Asia, Australia and Japan faced each other in a high-quality match that wasn’t able to split the two teams at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on the 12th of June. Yuzo Kurihara’s goal put the Blue Samurai ahead on the 65th minute, but was cancelled out five minutes later by a lucky penalty converted by Luke Wilkshire.
Japan was the form team leading into the match, having demolished Oman 3-0 and Jordan 6-0 the week before. This didn’t deter the Australians, however. Buoyed by the return to the starting XI of Tim Cahill, the Socceroos started the better of the teams, coming close to taking the lead in the opening 20 minutes through an Alex Brosque shot that was cleared near the goal line. The Samurai worked themselves back into the game through playmakers Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, beginning to dominate possession and create chances. The first half also saw the forced substitution through injury of Mark Bresciano, a big blow for the Socceroos on the 13th minute.
The Socceroos began to feel the effects of their Oman sojourn in the second half, as the Japanese again made many fruitless forays forward. The Roos task was only made harder with the controversial sending off of substitute Mark Milligan on the 54th minute. The dam wall finally broke on the 65th minute for Japan, with a dribble and pass into the right side of the box from Honda found Kurihara in the six-yard box to put Japan 1-0 ahead. A brave Australian team found luck go its way five minutes later with a penalty awarded due to Atsuto Uchida’s slight hold on Brosque (who was outstanding all game). Wilkshire coolly converted from the spot to level. A pulsating 20 minutes followed, as a desperate Aussie defence and attack looked for a win against a fast, technical Japanese team. Neither side was able to find a winner. The match-up was symbolic of the ongoing rivalry between the premier sides in Asia.
Australia’s next match is an international friendly in Scotland on August 15. The Socceroos will resume World Cup Qualifying on September 11 when they play away to Jordan.