Socceroos 1 Japan 1
Jade North and Keisuke Honda compete for the ball. Photo: Getty Images
THE SOCCEROOS didn't win against Japan last night but as far as honourable draws come, this ranks up there with the best of them.
Following on from last Friday's scoreless draw with Oman, questions arose about how much this team had to offer and whether the old guard had enough in the tank to make it through the World Cup qualification stage.
On the evidence, they'll land in Brazil with petrol to spare. Such a spirited display was reminiscent of Socceroos displays of yesteryear, and while some may criticise their technical ability and tactical nous, their determination cannot be challenged.
Vital goal ... Luke Wilkshire celebrates after scoring the equaliser. Photo: Getty Imahes
First, consider the opponent. Filled with stars of European and Asian club football, Japan were expected to play Australia off the park. They tried but every defence-splitting pass seemed to be met with a crunching tackle or desperate lunge. Whatever Japan concocted, Australia countered, and then countered some more.
Eventually the final whistle sounded and the 40,189 on hand finally had a chance to exhale. The action had been that frantic.
If there was a downside, it was that the surface stopped the Japanese from playing to their potential. Yevgeny Kafelnikov once called the surface at the nearby Queensland Sport and Athletic Centre a ''potato field'' after a Davis Cup tie and such sentiments wouldn't have been out of place for Suncorp Stadium. There was barely more grass than dirt but it suited the Aussies just fine.
Socceroos v Japan, June 12th, 2012
Ever since Germany 2006, Australia v Japan has become a marquee matchup in the Asian conference. Photo: Getty Images/Robert Cianflone
The Socceroos were then dealt a serious blow shortly after kick-off when Mark Bresciano picked up an injury, leaving manager Holger Osieck in a bind. With Carl Valeri already starting, it gave the midfield pairing a distinctly defensive feel to bring on Mark Milligan, who took just 11 minutes to pick up his first yellow.
Every time the match threatened to settle into a pattern it would broken up by a moment of inspiration or error. Japan's patient build-ups often resulted in Australian counter-attacks, and vice-versa.
The hosts' front pairing of Tim Cahill and Alex Brosque, whilst unorthodox, offered plenty. Cahill, in particular, was like a provoked terrier. He challenged for everything and made a nuisance of himself. He played like he had something to prove, probably because he did, having been picked ahead of Josh Kennedy.
However, if Cahill keeps imposing himself and bothering the opposition like he did last night - particularly the Japanese defensive pairing of Yaukui Konno and Yuzo Kurihara - there's no reason he can't regain his starting spot for good.
Any hopes of Australia going for the win, however, were seemingly snuffed out when Milligan was shown his second yellow card, although replays confirmed he was dreadfully unlucky.
Then, on 65 minutes, the inevitable happened and Japan had their goal. Keisuke Honda played a clever one-two but with Nikita Rukavytsya - who had just come on moments earlier - failing to block Honda's surging run, Kurihara was left with a simple tap-in.
But the match swung back dramatically and unexpectedly five minutes later when Atsuto Uchida was spotted with his arm around Brosque at a corner. The referee issued a yellow card and, more importantly, a penalty. Luke Wilkshire made no mistake.
Sensing their chances had been revived, the Socceroos pressed for a winner and nearly found it when Sasa Ognenovski squeezed out a deflected shot that bounced off the underside of the crossbar. Kurihara was sent off in the final minute but the result - a fitting one - was already decided.