It might not be anywhere near the oldest, but the Socceroos rivalry with Japan is one of the truly great rivalries in Australian sport. Built brick-by-brick over the past decade, these are guaranteed epic encounters that’ve defined the football fortunes of two of the Asian Football Confederation’s powerhouse nations.
The next chapter unfolds October 11 at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium, and it shapes as a defining game for each team’s road to Russia and the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The fortunes of Australia’s players on the European stage are sharply on the rise with Manchester City midfielder Aaron Mooy starring on loan in the English Championship for Huddersfield Town. Jackson Irvine (Burton), Mass Luongo (QPR) and Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa) are all enjoying success at the same level and Tom Rogic is scoring goals for fun at Scottish giants Glasgow Celtic.
In case you need a refresher, here’s a quick guide to a modern day rivalry of classic proportions, stretching back to those golden days in Germany at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
SOCCEROOS 3 – JAPAN 1, 2006 FIFA World Cup Group Stage
With just six minutes left in the game and the Samurai Blue leading by a goal for much of the game, Aussie hopes were wearing thin.
Fast-forward to a long throw from skipper Lucas Neill deep into the 18-yard box, and Super Tim Cahill pouncing to level the scores. Within minutes he would set Kaisreslautern’s Fritz-Walter Stadion alight once more with a second goal from distance. John Aloisi would put the icing on the cake with a third, breaking Japanese hearts, delighting Australian ones, and setting the tone for a decade of definitive matches.
SOCCEROOS 1 – JAPAN 1 (JAPAN 4-3 on penalties), 2007 AFC Asian Cup Quarter Final
With Australia firmly entrenched in Asia after a switch from Oceania, the side spluttered at the tournament drawing with Oman in its opening game before falling to eventual champions Iraq in the second game of the group stage, condemning the side to a Quarter Final match up with Japan.
On a steamy night in Hanoi John Aloisi opened the scoring midway through the second half, only to see Japan level almost immediately. All square after extra time, Japan would progress on penalties after Kewell and Neill both failed to score with their opening two spot kicks. For Japan, sweet revenge. For Australia, a gauntlet laid.
SOCCEROOS 2 – JAPAN 1, 2009 FIFA World Cup Qualifier MCG
The path to South Africa included an away date with Japan in Yokohama which did little but earn the Socceroos a valuable away point. The return leg at the MCG was grand in every sense.
Japan did most of most of the attacking in the opening 45-minutes and ultimately opened the scoring through Tulio Tanaka in the 40th minute.
Working their way back into form in the second half, Super Timmy Cahill gave the 74,000-strong crowd something to cheer about with a brilliant header to level the scores in the 59th minute.
Channeling his form in Germany years before, Cahill gave the Socceroos the lead in the 76th minute, when a Nicky Carle corner kick glided over the awaiting pack in the box where Cahill, waiting at the rear, got enough of his right leg to the ball to send it home and lift the crowd to their feet, and the Socceroos to South Africa.
JAPAN 1 – SOCCEROOS 0, 2011 AFC Asian Cup Final
Hunting their first silverware on the Asian continent, the Socceroos rampaged through the tournament, thrashing Uzbekistan 6-0 in their semi final. In contrast Japan battled foes South Korea in their penultimate match, scraping through on penalties.
The final was an enthralling contest in Doha, going 90-minutes without a goal, making every foray forward in extra time edge-of-the-seat stuff. The deadlock remained unbroken until the 20th minute of extra time, when Japan substitute Tadanari Lee took advantage of a David Carney lapse in concentration, netting off a cross from Yuto Nagatomo. After being on the wrong end of the Australian stick for years, Japan could now lay claim equality in this modern football masterpiece.