Reuters - Australia came from behind to beat Japan 2-1 with a second-half double from Tim Cahill on Wednesday to finish top of Asian World Cup qualifying Group One.
Both countries had already reached the 2010 finals in South
Africa with their last qualifier, played out by second-string
teams, deciding who would take the plaudits in the group.
Cahill struck just before the hour and in the 77th minute
after Japan's Brazilian-born defender Tulio ended Australia's
seven-game streak of clean sheets with a header in the 40th.
The result left Australia on top of the group with 20
points, five more than Japan. They conceded only one goal in
eight matches and were unbeaten in their final round of
"I think it's a great statement to the rest of Asia and
probably the rest of the world that you can finish a campaign
like this five points ahead," Australia coach Pim Verbeek told
"We did not lose one game. We got one goal (against us).
Can't have it all, but I think it's fantastic and I'm very proud
of the players."
On a cold evening in front of a crowd of more than 70,000 at
the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australia pushed hard for an early
goal, with chances for midfielder Mile Sterjovski and Cahill
going begging in the opening minutes.
But it was the Blue Samurai who drew first blood five
minutes before the break, when Tulio soared above a defence
caught napping to head a corner kick from Kengo Nakamura into
the bottom right-hand side of the net.
Japan carried the momentum into the second half, with speedy
midfielder Daisuke Matsui proving a handful for the Australian
defence but they were unable to press the advantage.
Cahill turned the match in the 59th minute, however, leaping
above Tulio on the left side of the penalty box to head a
long-range Vince Grella free kick over keeper Seigo Narazaki.
His right leg then found a floating cross from Nicky Carle
in the 77th minute in almost the same spot, the volley putting
Australia 2-1 up and triggering thunderous cheers from home
"He's so dangerous in the penalty box ... It's fantastic for
the team to have a player like that, that you know he can always
do what he has to do -- score goals," Verbeek said.
Cahill's brace will have brought back painful memories for
Japan fans who saw the attacking midfielder score two late goals
to help Australia clinch a rousing 3-1 comeback victory in their
group match at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.