Australia, Japan rivalry hits new heights

Monday, 11 June 2012 3:49 PM

Australia, Japan rivalry hits new heights

Socceroos captain Lucas Neill says his side will be drawing on past experiences when they go head-to-head with Japan in their crucial AFC World Cup qualifier at Suncorp Stadium on Tuesday night.

The Socceroos and the Blue Samurai have built a great rivalry in recent years as the top teams in Asia and with both teams fighting for supremacy in Group B in the fourth stage of World Cup qualifying Neill and his men will be calling on memories of battles past – both glorious and failed – for inspiration.

At the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany a Tim Cahill-inspired Socceroos scored three goals in the final 10 minutes to defeat Japan 3-1 in Kaiserslautern.

And more recently, in the 2011 Asian Cup final in Doha, Japan's Tadanari Lee broke a 0-0 deadlock after 109 epic minutes as Japan lifted the trophy.

"Over the years we have played some great games against Japan," Neill said.

"(In the 2006 World Cup) we were very new to the tournament.

"The way that we came back from 1-0 to win just sent us on a high going into our next games.

"It's experiences like that one that's given everybody the taste and the feeling that they want to continue to experience those kind of moments on the world stage.

"(The Asian Cup final) is probably a nice memory for Japan and a bad memory for us.

"We lost to perhaps one lapse in concentration.

"It's situations like that which give us the motivation and desire to put things right.

"Beating Japan would be a great way to heal us."

With Japan jumping out of the blocks in this stage of qualifying with emphatic wins over Jordan (6-0) and Oman (3-0) Neill has firmly placed the favourites tag on the visitors despite betting markets suggesting otherwise.

The Socceroos only returned home from their 0-0 draw in oppressive Omani conditions on Sunday while Japan have had a solid preparation playing their opening two matches at home and flying into Brisbane on Saturday.

"This game is very important for us because we are at home – we need to get maximum points," Neill said.

"But I actually think Japan is favourite for this game – they've had a better preparation.

"When you win you play with confidence so Japan is the form team.
"But by no means do we see that as a bad thing – we like the underdog tag."

Neill believes that Japan's stunning start to this stage of qualifying, which has them on top with six points, will allow them to play their own style of football against Australia.

"They are here full of confidence and maybe they think can leave on nine points, they would settle for seven, and if they leave on six, they leave on six," he said.

"The first goal is going to be very important. It is vital that we limit our opposition and then make them feel the pressure in front of goal to give ourselves the best chance of scoring."

Japan have gone past Australia in the FIFA rankings to take the tag of Asia's best team.

Neill said that while the rankings were not important to the Socceroos, there was a feeling in the camp that those rankings were unjust.

"We don't believe we are second best," he said.

"We don't worry too much about the rankings – they are on paper and we play on grass."

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