Socceroo Mark Milligan says there are no excuses for Australia slumping to a 2-0 loss against Japan and failing to ensure its bid for direct World Cup qualification.
Takuma Asano’s 41st-minute goal and a late screamer from Yosuke Ideguchi on Thursday ensured the Samurai Blue will be at Russia 2018, triggering wild celebrations among the boisterous 59,492-strong crowd at Saitama Stadium.
But the Socceroos’ own hopes of making a fourth successive appearance at the global showpiece are in a precarious position after a lifeless performance from Ange Postecoglou’s men.
Milligan said injuries and absences could not explain Australia’s inability to at least secure a draw, saying the 23 players who travelled to Japan needed to do the job.
“It’s hard to pinpoint, we are sort of disappointed and we need to have another look at it and regroup because we have another massive game coming up in Australia [against Thailand],” Milligan told Fox Sports after the match.
“That’s out of our control, the who, what and why of how we fell short and [we need to] come up with a good reply.”
Australia must beat Thailand – preferably by a hefty margin – on Tuesday night in Melbourne, and hope Japan avoid defeat against Saudi Arabia in Jeddah on Wednesday morning (AEST).
But given the daunting nature of that trip and with Japan’s destiny already sorted, that is a long way from a sure bet.
If the Saudis win, goal difference will determine whether the Socceroos will have to negotiate two further play-offs against the team that finishes third in Group A, and then the fourth-placed team from North and Central America.
A draw against Thailand would require Saudi Arabia to lose to Japan for Australia to lock in its spot.
Sick Mooy cost Socceroos before game even started
Bullish about their chances before the match and predicting the Samurai Blue would crumble under the pressure, the Socceroos were dealt a huge blow before the match with Premier League star Aaron Mooy ruled out with sickness.
The 26-year-old had made a cracking start to the new season with Huddersfield Town but woke up feeling ill on the morning of the match.
Postecoglou also started Robbie Kruse up front instead of Tomi Juric, who was under a fitness cloud after taking a knock in his last club match and failed to train with the team all week.
Australia dominated possession, enjoying 60 per cent of the ball, but did precious little with it and lost the battle for territory.
The home side were also far slicker going forward, taking 18 shots to just five and converting their chances when they came.
The Socceroos came agonisingly close to taking the lead when a deflected Mathew Leckie shot came off the right post in the 38th minute. But three minutes later, the Samurai Blue went ahead.
Asano drifted off his marker, a stationary Brad Smith, and tucked home a terrific cross from left-back Yuto Nagatomo, who was allowed too much space by Mathew Leckie.
Smith was a controversial selection in the squad, preferred over Aziz Behich despite not having played a minute of league football for Bournemouth this season.
His rusty display provided more fuel for his detractors.
Australia battled to find their rhythm and not even the introduction of the closest thing there is to Japanese kryptonite – Tim Cahill – could help them find it.
Ideguchi drove the final nail in the 82nd minute, rounding Jackson Irvine and launching a rasping shot from just outside the box that gave goalkeeper Mathew Ryan no chance.