Socceroos' World Cup qualifier against Japan: Australia loss will mean big effort needed to reach Russia

Socceroos' World Cup qualifier against Japan: Australia loss will mean big effort needed to reach Russia

Socceroos' World Cup qualifier against Japan: Australia loss will mean big effort needed to reach Russia

Updated 31 August 2017, 10:55 AEST

It could happen, and our fate would be out of our hands if it did, but a loss to Japan could see the Socceroos take an even longer route to the World Cup in Russia — one fraught with danger.

There's a reason they say just qualifying for the FIFA World Cup is an achievement in itself. The journey there is littered with matches where the stakes are ratcheted up again and again.

If the Socceroos...

  • Beat Japan: They qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup!
  • Draw: They will qualify if they beat Thailand on September 5
  • Lose: Beat Thailand, hope Japan draws or beats Saudi Arabia; draw Thailand, hope Japan beats Saudi Arabia, or lose to Thailand and hope Japan thrashes Saudi Arabia

Even against nations which lack a World Cup pedigree, the high-stakes nature means every showdown becomes momentarily seismic.

For Australia, a clash with Japan needs no added hyperbole. To bastardise The Castle: It's the pedigree, Darryl. The match is full of pedigree. Chockers.

Since that incredible 3-1 win over the Blue Samurai in the 2006 World Cup, Australia has beaten Japan just once in nine attempts, back in 2009.

Live Socceroos coverage

  • We will bring you all the action from the Socceroos' crucial qualifier against Japan in Saitama. Kick-off is at 8:35pm AEST, Thursday. Follow along in our live blog as the Socceroos look to reach Russia 2018.

A record of played nine, won once, drawn four and lost four, shows Japan has always been a formidable opponent, particularly on home turf.

If offered a draw between the two teams on Thursday night, Australian fans would bite your hand off. A win would be dreamland stuff, and would confirm the Socceroos' place in Russia outright.

Victory in Saitama would make Saudi Arabia's final match against Japan irrelevant to Australia's concerns, though a Socceroos draw with Japan followed by a home win over Thailand would also be good enough.

If Japan beats Australia...

(assumes JPN beats AUS by one goal)
Pos PGDPts
19+1020
29+616
39+516

But that's thinking too far ahead. Forever the pessimist, a loss in Saitama remains a very real possibility and, even with Saudi Arabia's shock loss to UAE, would require a nervy wait on goal difference calculations to see Australia through.

With goal difference being the crucial deciding factor, rather than head-to-head, it means Japan, having already hypothetically qualified, will have to travel to a motivated Saudi Arabia, either beat the hosts to reduce the goal difference or hold the Saudis to a draw, while the Socceroos work overtime to maul Thailand.

If Australia ends up on the wrong side of the goal difference ledger, or heck, even fluffs its lines against the Thais, a demotion to the fourth round of qualifying awaits. And this is where things get a little hectic.

If Australia finishes third in Group B, it will play the third-placed team from Group A. That could be from a choice of South Korea, Uzbekistan or the outside chance of Syria.

Syria would be a fairy tale story that Australia would have to ruin, but the team from the war-torn nation still needs two Group A wins to make it that far, including a match against already-qualified Iran.

Of the two most likely teams to finish third, Uzbekistan fronts up as the most beatable opponent. But both Uzbekistan and South Korea have proved wildly inconsistent propositions in this campaign.

South Korea's players are a different calibre, certainly on a technical level, but some of their results in qualifying have been shocking and bely the playing talent the country has at its disposal.

Get through a two-legged contest against one of those teams (on October 5 and 10), and the inter-confederation play-offs beckon in which Australia would face the fourth-placed team from North America's qualifying group.

There's still some way to go in the CONCACAF qualifying process, but generally, there are some very tricky prospects awaiting the Asian team in a two-legged tie.

CONCACAF ladder

Pos PPts
1Mexico614
2Costa Rica611
3USA68
4Panama67
5Honduras65
6Trinidad and Tobago63

Mexico should have done enough to qualify, and the talented Costa Rica (which enjoyed a phenomenal run to the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals) must rate its chances of securing progression to Russia.

But with four games each still left to simmer in the North American pot, a lot can still go wrong for any country, and both teams would be a nightmare draw for Australia if it somehow finished fourth.

Honduras, currently fifth, should be accounted for were it to cross swords with the Socceroos.

The real danger — and the whole reason Australia should be looking to avoid this rabbit hole in the first place — lies in Panama and the United States.

Panama have turned out to be CONCACAF draw specialists so far, ending four games level out of six. It doesn't lose often — just the one shock loss to lowly Trinidad — and has proven the equal of the more fancied Mexico and United States.

The take-home lesson from a trip to Panama: these guys can get an away goal if they need one. It's a supreme danger in tight contests played across two legs, and would be a gutting way for a protracted qualifying campaign to conclude.

Then of course, there's the small matter of potentially facing the US.

Playing the United States — with the tie to be staged on November 6 and 14, with Australia enjoying a home second leg — would be the ultimate clash of the big guns, and just progressing past this would feel like winning the World Cup entire.

The USMNT has been a frustrating, inconsistent rabble in qualifying. But Socceroos fans have found themselves in similar situations, both in this campaign and in years prior.

Underperforming for the most part, the United States has the opportunity to reassess and get its act together over the final four games. But failing that, the match-up with Australia would be terrifying and tantalising for both camps.

The US has the pace and technique to trouble Australia home and away, and the Socceroos would need to conjure up a herculean effort similar to that which we saw during the Confederations Cup.

It's a possible eventuality that could all be avoided if Australia just gets a point against Japan in Saitama on Thursday night. Easier said than done. Then again, it's not even easy saying what the alternative task would be.