Socceroos claim 1-1 draw against Japan
Photo Source: AAP
Mile Jedinak's penalty has rescued Australia from a home World Cup qualifying defeat, salvaging a 1-1 draw against Japan and keeping the Socceroos on course for the 2018 tournament.
Japan looked set for a smash-and-grab success after Genki Haraguchi's fifth-minute opener.
A first half played at a snail's pace gave way to a helter-skelter second, allowing the Socceroos back into the contest.
The Blue Samurai will rue their clumsy penalty that gifted Australia their equaliser, but will be thankful Ange Postecoglou's side didn't find a second.
The Socceroos surged in the final 20 minutes as they chased a winner, but their transformation from frog to prince came too late for a victory.
The draw isn't a stellar one for Australia's qualifying hopes - they are likely to lose top place in the group as a result.
But eight points from four games is a fine tally and the result keeps Australia a point ahead of arch-rivals Japan and in control of their qualifying destiny with six qualifiers left.
The Socceroos started without confidence in Melbourne and soon fell behind.
Haraguchi made it three goals in as many matches when he converted a one-on-one chance.
Trent Sainsbury was the guilty party, attempting an audacious pass that Haraguchi intercepted and eventually finished.
With buoyant support among the 48,460 at Etihad Stadium, Japan was frustrating a lacklustre Australia.
Playing with a 4-4-2 system, including surprise selection Apostolos Giannou alongside Tomi Juric up front, the Socceroos couldn't cut through.
Australia subsisted on set pieces in a lacklustre first stanza.
Matthew Spiranovic headed Aaron Mooy's cross over and Jedinak brought a save out of Shusaku Nishikawa from a direct free kick.
The break Australia desperately needed came on 51 minutes, when Juric was bundled over in the box by Japan's goalscorer.
Brad Smith's intelligent run and cross bore fruit, with captain Jedinak thundering the penalty home.
The Socceroos, reverting to their usual 4-3-3 formation, were on top and Postecoglou gave substitutes Robbie Kruse and Tim Cahill half an hour to help find a winner.
While Spiranovic climbed high again but headed a late corner over, it was Japan which came closest to a second goal.
On 74 minutes, Mat Ryan produced the save of the match, diving low to his right to deny Yuto Kobayashi.
Takuma Asano was unlucky not to connect with Haraguchi's cross with Ryan beaten, leaving the teams to share the spoils.
Postecoglou cursed his side's poor start.
"International goals are hard to come by and we dished up a really soft one tonight," he said.
"We wasted 45 minutes tonight.
"I'm disappointed in the context of where I think we're at as a team."
Japanese boss Vahid Halilhodzic said he had no regrets but some frustration at not being able to snatch a win.
"We let the opponent have the ball because we knew we would have the chance to score ... we should have taken two more points," he said through a translator.