Japan’s Shinji Okazaki (left) and Australia’s Brad Smith battle for the ball during their World Cup Group B qualifying soccer match in Saitama on Thursday. (AP photo)
SAITAMA, JAPAN – Japan qualified for the World Cup by beating Asian champion Australia 2-0 on Thursday.
The Japanese, who reached for their sixth straight World Cup, got goals from Takuma Asano and Yosuke Ideguchi to improve to 20 points in Group B. Australia can still qualify if it clinches second place.
Yuto Nagatomo set up the first goal in 41st minute, sending a cross into the box that an unmarked Asano calmly side-footed past Australia goalkeeper Mathew Ryan.
“Yuto made a great play to get me the ball,” Asano said. “I was thrilled to contribute to the team in such a big game and want to thank the coach for showing confidence in me.”
Looking to create more chances, Australia coach Ange Postecoglou sent in Tomi Juric and Tim Cahill in the second half.
Instead, Ideguchi scored another for Japan in the 83rd when he sent an angled shot past the outstretched arms of Ryan for his first goal with the national team.
With 20 points, Japan is four points ahead of Australia and Saudi Arabia. Japan travels to Saudi Arabia for its final group game on Sept 5. Australia faces last-place Thailand on the same day.