OSAKA – Japan underlined its Asian Cup title credentials as the defending champion registered a 2-1 win over Australia in the final warm-up for both teams ahead of the continental championship to be held Down Under in January.
Yasuyuki Konno came off the bench to head in the opener on 61 minutes and Shinji Okazaki scored a cheeky second in the 68th before substitute Tim Cahill, so often a thorn in Japan’s side over the years, grabbed an injury-time consolation on a chilly night at Yanmar Stadium.
Japan, which captured a record fourth Asian Cup with an extra-time 1-0 win over Australia in the 2011 final in Qatar, now leads the head-to-heads between the two teams with eight wins against seven losses and eight draws.
“Australia defended from the front in the first half and I thought we dealt with it pretty well,” Japan manager Javier Aguirre said. “I think the 2-1 result is a fair reflection of the performances.”
“We’re in the process of finding a nucleus for our team. We beat Jamaica but lost to Brazil, so we wanted to win both games this time around, which we were able to do.”
“The team we played tonight are hosting the Asian Cup so it will not be an easy tournament for us.”
As expected, Aguirre stuck with 10 of the 11 starters that hammered Honduras 6-0 in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, on Friday.
Kosuke Ota was the only change to the side, the FC Tokyo man coming in for Schalke defender Atsuto Uchida, who is being rested with a sore right knee.
Australia came into the match looking to rebound from a 1-0 defeat to Qatar last month and after a bright start, the visitors had the best chance of a tightly contested first half, Mathew Leckie’s header bringing a fine save out of Eiji Kawashima on 17 minutes.
Keisuke Honda tried his luck at the other end with a low drive eight minutes later, but Australia goalkeeper Mat Ryan got down to gather near his left post.
The AC Milan star earned a free kick after being brought down by Mile Jedinak in time added on at the end of the half, but his shot was again easy for Ryan.
Ryan was kept busy early in the second half and did well to thwart Shinji Kagawa before pulling off an excellent stop to deny Okazaki from close range.
But Japan finally broke the deadlock in the 61st minute as Konno, who replaced Gamba Osaka teammate Yasuhito Endo after the break, arrived at the far post to head Honda’s corner high into the net.
“Obviously it was nice to score and make a contribution to the team. I feel like I have got the job done,” Konno said after getting his first run out under Aguirre.
“It’s good to be back. The coach has given me a boost and I want to battle for a holding midfield position.”
Okazaki should have doubled the lead after Honda put him clean through in a swift break, but the Mainz striker quickly made amends when he cleverly flicked home Masato Morishige’s cross from the right.
“I didn’t take a bunch of chances so I’m glad I somewhat made up for it,” Okazaki said of his 40th international goal. “I want to keep going for 50 goals (for Japan).”
Cahill pulled one back in the second minute of injury time but it proved too little, too late for Ange Postecoglou’s side.
Cahill, whose goals against Japan include a late double that killed it off in their opening game at the 2006 World Cup, pulled one back in the second minute of injury time but it proved too little, too late for Ange Postecoglou’s side.
“When I get my chance I take it and I am just disappointed we could not reward ourselves with a better result,” Cahill told Kyodo News.
“Tonight it was special for me because I am not going to get too many chances to play in Japan internationally and I have a lot of respect for the people here and mutual respect for the fact that I score goals against them. That’s my job.”
At the Asian Cup, which is scheduled for Jan. 9-31, Japan has been drawn in Group D against Palestine, Jordan and Iraq, while Australia will face Kuwait, South Korea and Oman.
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