Opinion: Socceroos find the key against Japan

It was not pretty but it was effective, and Bren O'Brien believes Australia now know the sort of performance they need to produce if they are to reach the 2014 World Cup

The last thing the Socceroos wanted to get into in Saitama on Tuesday was a game of football, and apart from about 15 minutes where Japan controlled the game, Holger Osieck would have felt his players got it right.

The end result, a 1-1 draw, was a fair outcome for two teams who produced plenty of intensity and pressure, but very little in terms of grace and skill.

That was the reason why Australia managed to get something out of this game and build some momentum on the road to Brazil. While Japan may have controlled possession and had the lion's share of the chances, it was a match played on the Socceroos' terms.

It meant that if Australia could take one of a couple of chances, or profit from some luck, they would walk away with three points. In the end, Tommy Oar's cross floated over the goalkeeper and the Socceroos had a crucial victory in their grasp.

But if you profit from fortune, you can not really complain when luck goes the other way. Matt McKay embodied everything good about Australia's performance for 89 minutes, but a stray arm and a rifled cross saw him handle the ball.

The brilliant Keisuke Honda, who had led the charge all night, smashed the ball into the net, booking Japan's spot at the 2014 World Cup.

Australia may have felt hard done by, but the penalty was clear and the goal was all Honda deserved after a dominant performance.

Japan's problem for most of the night was that it was only Honda and Shinji Kagawa who could make any inroads. Otherwise, the home side failed to break down the determined Australian defence, which continually thwarted the final ball into the box and forced Japan to shoot mainly from range.

The draw continues Australia's unbeaten record against Japan in World Cup matches, with the only two defeats to Japan since 2006 coming in extra time or penalties in Asian Cup matches.

So why do the Socceroos continually perform at their peak against Asia's best but, when it comes to performing against relative minnows, they struggle?

The answer is part psychological and part tactical.

On a psychological level, the Socceroos are clearly fired by their rivalry with Japan but their ability to apply the same focus to a game against the likes of Jordan, Iraq or Oman is questionable.

But perhaps more significantly, it is clear that this current Socceroos team, with the profile of players Osieck has at his disposal, is better served implementing the counter-attacking style we saw in Saitama.

As has been mentioned, a game of football is not something which necessarily plays into the Socceroos hands.

What may suit them better against Jordan in Melbourne and Iraq in Sydney is playing to the natural advantages of this side, which are physical strength, athletic ability, experience and discipline.

The reality is that both Jordan and Iraq are likely going to need to win their games in Australia in order to qualify and Osieck needs to use that to his advantage - to demand the opposition attack and trust his players' best qualities to get the job done.

As we found out on Tuesday, the path to World Cup qualification is much a test of nerve and wits as it is skill.

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