Asia's Biggest Rivalries: Japan's Samurai Blue vs Australia's Socceroos
November 27, 1956: Australia 2 Japan 0. Olympic Games, Melbourne, Australia.
Biggest achievement(s): Reaching the round of 16 at the 2006 World Cup; Winning the 2015 Asian Cup
3 key games won by Australia:
October 10, 1969: Australia 3 Japan 1. World Cup qualifier, Seoul, South Korea
The scoreline of 3-1 would prove to be a prophetic, pivotal one between these teams, as you will see below.
Australia’s win in 1969 – the first meeting of any note since an amateur Aussie team won that first Olympic clash in 1956 – allowed them to top their group and move to the next round. They would then overcome Zimbabwe (then known as Rhodesia) to progress to a final battle against Israel.
The Israeli’s ultimately spoiled the Socceroos’ bid for a first World Cup appearance, triumphing 1-0 win at home and then securing a 1-1 draw in Sydney.
June 12, 2006: Australia 3 Japan 1. World Cup finals, Kaiserslautern, Germany
Any semblance of a rivalry between the sides had fizzled since that meeting in 1969, with only a handful of friendly matches held right through until the turn of the millennium. But this is the match that will live long in the minds of all who saw it, for very different reasons, depending on your allegiance.
A Mark Schwarzer mistake in the first half allowed Japan to take the lead, but the Australians would turn the match – and their World Cup fortunes – on its head with three late goals, including a Tim Cahill brace. They were Australia’s first ever goals in the World Cup. More on this match below.
June 17, 2009: Australia 2 Japan 1, World Cup qualifier, Melbourne, Australia
It’s hard to go past World Cup qualifying victories as being the biggest and most important achievements in Australian matches against their modern-day foe.
This was the final match of the 2009 qualifying round and while both teams had already secured a place in South Africa, the victory ensured Australia finished top of the group.
That man Cahill was the protagonist again, with his second-half double overturning an early deficit.
Key figures in this rivalry:
Tim Cahill: Who else? He scored those first two goals at the World Cup and both goals in that 2009 clash. There must be voodoo dolls with his likeness all over Japan. He is Australia’s record goalscorer and, more than a decade since that epic match in Germany, he’s still playing. Who would rule against him having his say at least once more in this rivalry before he retires?
Guus Hiddink: The Dutchman wasn’t perfect. During the 2006 World Cup he picked Zeljko Kalac ahead of Schwarzer in the final group game against Croatia and the replacement keeper's blunder could have cost them dearly. He also surprised many be keeping Josh Kennedy on the bench waiting for extra time that never came in the knockout defeat to eventual champions Italy. But those blips have been mostly forgotten in the wake of his unprecedented achievements.
Hiddink took over from Frank Farina and brought with him boundless belief and some worldly guile rarely seen in a Socceroo gaffer. Many a cynic didn’t believe the country was capable of recruiting someone of Hiddink’s stature, but the Federation came through and the man who will forever be known as “Aussie Gus” to Socceroos fans took the team to World Cup qualification and a place in the round of 16.
A FFT WRITERS' MEMORIES - JAMES DAMPNEY
Australians grow up either loving sport or being forced to suffer through it. It is inescapable and often the front-page lead of newspapers and television broadcasts across the country, whether it is the finals of the respective football codes, the Melbourne Cup, cricket’s Boxing Day Test or the Olympic Games.
In a group featuring Brazil and Croatia, it was pretty clear a result was needed against Japan if the Aussies had any hope
There are moments therefore that are forever burned into the consciousness, those ‘where were you?’ events that might occur once or twice per decade.
While the clear modern-day standout in terms of the Socceroos is John Aloisi’s converted penalty against Uruguay that finally snapped 32 years of disappointment and guaranteed World Cup qualification, the opening match of that 2006 tournament against Japan in Germany would have to run a pretty close second.
In a group featuring Brazil and Croatia, it was pretty clear a result was needed against Japan if the Aussies had any hope of fighting out of their historical weight class and progressing.
So I’ll never forget the dejection I felt as a speculative ball from Shunsuke Nakamura sailed over Mark Schwarzer’s head and into an empty net in the 26th minute, a cruel blow to a keeper whose saves helped get Australia to this stage.
A great mate of mine I was watching with at the time was adamant we could get back into it, but I just didn’t believe it. The way we were playing, the technical skill of the Japanese and the weight of the occasion all seemed too much.
Enter one Timothy Cahill.
His goals in the 84th and 89th minutes put Australians into dreamland and it seemed all too surreal when Aloisi’s slalom run and world-class finish arrived in the 92nd minute. There would be some disappointments against the Samurai Blue in later years, particularly the defeat in the 2011 Asian Cup final and a quarter-final loss to the same opposition in the same competition four years earlier. But we’ll always have Kaiserslautern, the day this rivalry was truly born.