Japan have qualified to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar thanks to a 2-0 win away at Australia on March 24th, with substitute Kaoru Mitoma scoring a late brace to send the Samurai Blue through, having endured a rocky campaign in the final round of qualifiers.
With the game at Sydney’s Stadium Australia seemed to be destined for a goalless draw, Mitoma, who now plies his trade on loan at Belgian top-flight leaders Union SG on loan from the Premier League’s own Brighton & Hove Albion, broke the deadlock in the 89th minute before sealing Japan’s ticket to Qatar in the fourth minute of injury-time.
Japan’s win also meant that Saudi Arabia will be accompanying the Samurai Blue out of Group B into Qatar, with the qualifiers’ last matchday deciding on who would win the group. However, on the last set of matches played on March 29th, Japan were held to a 1-1 draw by bottom-of-the-table Vietnam, having gone down 1-0 in half-time before a 55th minute Maya Yoshida equalizer spared the Samurai Blue’s blushes, before hours afterward a Salem Al-Dawsari penalty earned Saudi Arabia a 1-0 win over Australia in Jeddah.
Consecutive defeats don’t mean that Australia’s out of the running for Qatar 2022 just yet. The Socceroos must go through the hard way for their ticket to Qatar, first conquering the play-offs between the final qualifiers’ two third-place finishers – themselves and Group A’s the United Arab Emirates, before battling the 5th placed team from the South American qualifiers in the intercontinental play-off for a spot in the World Cup.
Having yet to beat the hosts on Australian soil since 1998, Japan were made to struggle by a COVID-19-hit Socceroos, with Liverpool star Takumi Minamino hitting the crossbar twice in the first half before seeing an 80th minute effort being cleared away in the last minute by Trent Sainsbury.
Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu then made what turned out to be a masterstroke in the 84th minute by replacing Minamino with Mitoma, and it took the former Kawasaki Frontale player five minutes to finally breach the Australian defense, pouncing on a cut-back pass to beat Mat Ryan in the Australia goal, sending the visiting support into raptures.
The result and Japan’s qualification to Qatar were then put beyond doubt in the fourth minute of injury time, after Mitoma danced his way through an exhausted Australia defense before getting the better of Ryan once again to complete his brace.