Curse of Cahill gives Japan reality check
"Dangerman Cahill leaves Japan with bitter taste," ran a headline in Thursday's Nikkan Sports while rival newspaper the Sankei Sports summed it up in two words: "Him again!"
Tim Cahill's double in Melbourne on Wednesday gave the Australians a 2-1 win in what was effectively a dead rubber as both teams had already qualified for the 2010 World Cup.
Victory meant the Socceroos finished five points clear of Japan at the top of Group One with 20 points from eight matches.
As at the 2006 World Cup, the Japanese went ahead only to surrender their lead, with Cahill -- who scored two late goals in Australia's 3-1 victory in Germany -- again Japan's tormentor.
Japan coach Takeshi Okada had reasserted his belief Japan were good enough to reach the semi-finals in South Africa next year before Wednesday's Group One game.
However, those words rang hollow after the "Blue Samurai" were again overpowered by Australia while goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki and Brazilian-born defender Tulio were involved in an angry altercation at the final whistle.
"It's an awful feeling to lose," Japan's goalscorer Tulio told Japanese media. "If you don't go in 100 percent committed this is what happens. We have to try and put it behind us."
Okada remained defiant.
"I'm not going to be too pessimistic about this result," he said. "Australia are a strong team. They took Italy to extra time at the 2006 World Cup and Italy ended up as champions."
Japan's best run in the three World Cup finals they have previously appeared in was as co-hosts in 2002 when they reached the last 16 under Frenchman Philippe Troussier.
However, fellow hosts South Korea stole Japan's thunder by becoming the first Asian side to reach the semi-finals.