BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – Ten-man Australia scored from the penalty spot with 20 minutes left to rescue a point in a World Cup qualifier against in-form Japan on Tuesday.
The 1-1 draw dents Japan’s 100 percent record in final qualifying, but it still tops the five-team Group B on seven points from three games. Australia has two points from two games.
The top two are guaranteed Brazil 2014 berths.
In an enthralling contest between the two top-ranked Asian teams, Japan appeared to have grabbed the winner through Yuzo Kurihara in the 65th minute.
But the Australians, who had substitute Mark Milligan sent off after a second yellow card 10 minutes earlier, grabbed the equalizer when Luke Wilkshire blasted home from the spot on 70 minutes.
Saudi referee Khalil Al Ghamdi pointed to the penalty spot and yellow carded Atsuto Uchida for pulling Alex Brosque away inside the area as an Australian corner came in, and Wilkshire made no mistake in front of 40,000.
“What my team delivered tonight was unbelievable, it is hard to describe how they fought their way through a lot of adversity, all credit to them,” Australia coach Holger Osieck said.
“I think we demonstrated pretty clearly today that we can do a lot in the group and Japan already have seven points, but we will get our points and it sends a message not only to Japan but to the other teams as well.”
Japan also finished the match a man down as goalscorer Kurihara capped a mixed night when he received a second yellow card for bringing down Tim Cahill from behind.
Japan felt further aggrieved when referee Ghamdi whistled for full time just as Keisuke Honda was about to take a long-range free-kick deep in injury time.
“We came here happy for a draw, but after what happened on the field we could have won it,” Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said.
“For most of the game we pressured them well. Australia had to win this game. They have experience, physical strength and had savvy on this bad pitch but my players never got pushed around.”
Australia had an early setback, losing playmaker Mark Bresciano after 13 minutes with a hip injury. He was replaced by Milligan.
The home side had a scare when Honda’s shot bounced off Mark Schwarzer with Lucas Neill hacking away to safety, and moments later Shinji Okazaki’s header was narrowly wide.
The Socceroos came close to opening the scoring after 19 minutes when Uchida blocked a goal-bound shot by Neill and David Carney’s drive was deflected away by Kurihara.
Kurihara received his first yellow card for holding back Cahill in a centerfield sprint after the ball and Milligan joined him in the referee’s book for bringing down Honda.
Milligan received his second yellow in the 55th minute for dangerous play as his outstretched foot made contact with Uchida.
The Blue Samurai piled on the pressure and they got the crucial goal in the 65th minute off a Honda pass across goal for the unmarked Kurihara to sidefoot home, before Wilkshire came to Australia’s rescue.