HANOI — The Aussie supersubs who all but destroyed Japan’s World Cup dreams in Germany last year are ready to inflict even more misery on the Samurai Blue, but this time they don’t want to leave it quite so late.
Hanoi. The Socceroos face Japan in the Asian Cup quarterfinals on Saturday.
Tim Cahill and John Aloisi came off the bench to score the three late goals that gave Australia a 3-1 victory over Japan in their group opener last June and they are confident of a repeat victory in their Asian Cup quarterfinal clash, even if they insist their opponents go into Saturday’s game as slight favorites.
“Hopefully we won’t leave it till quite so late this time,” said forward Aloisi on Wednesday. “Japan are probably favorites as they are the defending champions, have been playing well and getting better results than us.
“Japan-Australia would have been a dream final but we can’t change the fact we will be playing them now.”
Said Cahill: “This is the biggest game in the tournament for us and we have to go into it to win like last time. If we want to win this tournament, we have to play the best teams.”
The Aussies narrowly averted disaster in their first-round group in Bangkok, where they drew 1-1 with Oman and lost 3-1 to Iraq before beating Thailand 4-0 in their final match to clinch second place.
Everton midfielder Cahill came off the bench to save the Aussies’ blushes with a last-minute equalizer against Oman and has yet to start a game in the tournament — Aloisi has started only against Thailand — but hopes coach Graham Arnold gives him the nod against Japan.
“It’s an emotional time for me to play against Japan,” said Cahill. “I have a lot of fond memories and I really want to play, but if I don’t start maybe I can come on and have an impact on the game.
“I wouldn’t say we destroyed Japan last time as it was a competitive game. We know (Shunsuke) Nakamura and (Naohiro) Takahara and there are a lot of players with great ability and we have a lot of respect for the players and team.”
On top of struggling with the punishing heat in the Thai capital in the opening round, the Aussies also have had to deal with speculation regarding Arnold’s future, an Internet petition to fire the coach and rumors of infighting among the players.
Cahill believes the Aussies, though, are finally coming good and getting to grips with the climate, but warned that whoever wins on Saturday shouldn’t automatically expect an easy ride through the Hanoi semifinal and Jakarta final on July 29.
“We started poorly but have finally found our feet,” said Cahill.
“We have to deal with the climate. It’s an early kickoff, the climate has to be put to one side, we have to get on with it and play football.
“It’s going to be a special game but we can’t disregard the other teams. Whoever wins this game isn’t guaranteed to win the tournament.”
It was in scorching conditions at Kaiserslautern’s Fritz Walter Stadion last June that Cahill gobbled up a loose ball in the Japan area in the 84th minute to level the game after ‘keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi flapped at a long cross.
With two minutes to go, Cahill crashed in an unstoppable shot that went in off the right post before Aloisi completed the stunning come-from-behind win in injury time with a virtuoso strike to snatch all three points away from the shell-shocked Japanese.
Nakamura had given Japan a contentious first-half lead when his inswinging cross evaded ‘keeper Mark Schwarzer and dropped into the empty net.