From Kaiserslautern to Brisbane: A history of the emergence of Australia & Japan's new rivalry

Since Australia's move into Asia, the Socceroos and Japan have regularly met and built a real rivalry, with the latest chapter to be added in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier
By Ben Somerford | Asian Football Editor

The Socceroos and the Samurai Blue will once again resume their growing rivalry when they face off in Brisbane on Tuesday in the final round of Asia's 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifier. As the Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) two highest-ranked teams it's only natural that they would form a healthy rivalry, however fate has also conspired to pit them against one another on an almost annual basis since Australia's move into the region.

Indeed, over the past six years, the duel between these two distant nations has evolved, as they've faced off in several major tournaments with plenty of stake, including bragging rights as Asia's number one team.

Ahead of Tuesday's new chapter, has put together a brief history of the emerging rivalry between these two nations, looking at their recent five meetings.

2006 World Cup | Australia 3-1 Japan, Kaiserslautern

Despite Australia's move into the AFC in 2006, the Socceroos qualified for the 2006 World Cup as an Oceania representative and as fate would have it, they were drawn alongside future foes Japan in the group stage.

The two sides met in their group opener in Kaiserslautern, with Japan enjoying a 1-0 lead for the bulk of the game after goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer flapped at Shunsuke Nakamura's cross. Australia, making their first World Cup appearance in 32 years, appeared down and out with just minutes left.

Enter, Tim Cahill. On 84 minutes the new golden-boy of Australian football scrambled home an equaliser, recording the Socceroos' first-ever goal at a World Cup finals. Five minutes later, he had another and Guus Hiddink's Australia were ahead when he curled home a shot in off the post, setting off wild celebrations for the green-and-gold contingent in Kaiserslautern. Substitute John Aloisi added another deep into stoppage-time for good measure as Australia celebrated their finest footballing moment and a rivalry was born. Ultimately the Socceroos would progress to the last 16, while Japan were bundled out with just one point.

2007 Asian Cup quarterfinal | Japan win on penalties, Hanoi

The Samurai Blue exacted some semblance of revenge for their World Cup defeat, when they knocked Australia out of the 2007 Asian Cup at the quarter-final stage 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

Both sides had gone into the 2007 event in South-East Asia as hot favourites to take out the continental title, however the Socceroos, in their first ever Asian Cup, had endured an ordinary group campaign finishing second, forcing the two to meet earlier than expected.

Aloisi broke the deadlock on 70 minutes when he stabbed the ball home from close range, but Naohiro Takahara pounced on Mark Milligan's poor clearance two minutes later to level. Australia would have Vince Grella sent off for a raised elbow but they held on until penalties where star duo Harry Kewell and Lucas Neill had spot-kicks saved by Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi. Takahara missed his, but Yuji Nakazawa stepped up to send Japan through and Australia out.

2010 World Cup qualifying | Japan 0-0 Australia, Yokohama

The two Asian heavyweights were drawn in the same group for the final phase of qualifying for the South Africa showpiece, which the pair were again hot favourites to reach. For the first time in their recent rivalry, one side would have to face their opponent's home crowd, with Japan roared on by 66,000 fans.

After winning their opening three games, Pim Verbeek's Australia travelled to Yokohama for the February 11, 2009 clash with the Samurai Blue, who had accumulated seven points from three games, having drawn their previous home match with Uzbekistan.

In a cagey affair, Verbeek's side employed a conservative approach, inviting Japan on them, however the hosts struggled to unlock the Australian defence with their neat interplay. Keiji Tamada hit the side netting in the first-half, while the Socceroos struggled for chances. Yasuhito Endo stung the palms of Schwarzer on 70 minutes with the game's best chance but ultimately Japan didn't have the formula for a way through and Australia earned a good point on the road.

2010 World Cup qualifying | Australia 2-1 Japan, Melbourne

In the final game of qualifying, both sides had already qualified for the 2010 finals, taking a lot of the potential lure out of this clash, which was essentially a dead rubber. Nonetheless, almost 70,000 supporters turned up to Melbourne's MCG, such was the growing competitiveness between these two nations.

And the script on this occasion went much like 2006, with Japan going ahead before that man again, Cahill, tormented the Samurai Blue defence. Defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka powerfully headed the visitors into the lead late in the first half to silence the home faithful.

However, Cahill would respond for the Australians, with a trademark header to level on 59 minutes as he outjumped Tanaka. With less than quarter of an hour to go, the Everton man completed his brace when he bundled the ball home as Nick Carle's corner evaded a melee of players. The win meant little, given the game's dead-rubber status, but for the many thousands of Aussie fans at the MCG, it was justification of Australia's tag as the number one in Asia as they topped their qualifying group ahead of Japan.

2011 Asian Cup final | Australia 0-1 Japan, Doha

Australia had enjoyed plenty of recent joy against Japan, however the 2011 Asian Cup final would be a turning point as the Samurai Blue hoisted the trophy following an extra-time thriller won by a dramatic 109th-minute volley from Tadanari Lee.

The Socceroos will look back on the decider with regret, as Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima won the Man-of-the-Match honour after several fine stops, including a stellar second-half block to deny Harry Kewell in a one-on-one. Australia certainly had their chances with Kewell and the ever-familiar Cahill busy up front, while the tireless Yuto Nagatomo was dangerous throughout, in particular when he whipped in a lovely cross for Shinji Okazaki to head narrowly wide.

Indeed, as the game moved into extra-time it was Nagatomo who found a pocked of space on the left flank past Luke Wilkshire, before delivering a pinpoint cross for Lee, who lost his marker David Carney, and arrowed in a sublimely timed volley past the stationary Schwarzer to clinch glory. It came late and gave Australia little time to respond, as Japan celebrated becoming Asian champions.

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