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World Cup Diary

GAME 9, GROUP F, JUNE 12, 2006 --KAISERSLAUTERN
AUSTRALIA 3, JAPAN 1
FINAL

I'm coming I'm coming! The Gitmo story had me held back...

All right, first things first: This is japan and australia, not Italy and Ghana. I don't know what's going on, but all my schedules had Ghana and Italy going first today. What the hell? FIFA is almost fascistic with its schedules... I've not prepared too well for this game (I was going to do my homework later in the day), but this much I dio know: The Australians are not the fairest players in the world Four years ago they clocked themselves a record by beating American Somoa 31-0 in a qualifying game, after they'd beaten another team 22-0 (or something like that). Sportsmanship is not their forte. Japan? Too much sportsmanship, if anything. My personal preference: I'd like to see a small-soccer no-power like Japan humble the Aussies a little bit.

7... Not a bad start for the Japanese in this half, but not an even-tempo game either. And again with that German sunshine! Now there's a true record. Four straight days of gold in the land of grays and damp.

Australia and Japan of course are both Cinderella teams in this group, because they're with Brazil and Croatia, the superpower and the big power of football. S this is really a game for third place in the group. A matter of honor, as the Japanese would put it. But it's also a game that will position the winner for the sort of opportunism susprise upsets are made for: if Croatia were to tie or lose one of its games to these two, we have a more interesting make-up... The Japanese are not doing well in their box.

14... Australia's game plan: a matter of heights over the Japanese's heads, in the box. It's what the Swedes like to do to their opposition. But Japanese dribbling wiliness will offer a nice contrast.

The commentors are making a big deal of Japan's qualifying run, an 11-1 record. But Japan lost to Iran, 2-1 for that one loss, and we saw yesterday that Iran was not that brilliant. Japan's wins came against Indonesia (a 7-0 thrashing at home, 4-0 on the road), Singapore, North Korea, Oman and Bahrain--a coalition of the unwilling. Not exactly a challenge.

Ah! Brillian one-two by Takhahara, shot on goal just wide.

And Australia answers with an equally swift, sweet slam that ends luckily for Japan in the keeper's reach.

26... JAPAN JUST SCORED! Nakamura shot it from outside the box, a Japanese player did an American-football-like body check on the Aussie keeper, but I'm not sure it was as clear-cut a foul as the comments I'm hearing on ESPN are making it sound... "making contact with an opponent before the ball gets there"? Yes, but it was somewhat borderline: the ball was sailing over the cluster when the body contact was made, and it looks pretty clear, too, that the ball was sailing out of reach of the keeper either way: he was too far forward of his line, and he was wrong-footed. He was expecting a shot, not a lob.

34... Not much strength behind the Aussies' response: feeble kicks, spotty organization at midfield. It's not enough to be angry about an unfair goal. And the run by the Japanese just now, all the way into the box, shows the Australians are two steps behind their opponents.

41... what, no free kick for the Japanese on this take-down on the way to the Aussie box? The ref must be trying to make up for a perceived misjudgment over that goal. But the Australians are digging their own hole by letting themselves be outplayed and outgritted. Here come the Japanese again.

45... Well, you can't take it away from the Japanese. They did a better job. Controversial or not, they deserve the lead.

SECOND HALF...

46... Zico, Japan's Brazilian coach (and one of the stars of the Brazilian national team in 1982 and 1986) should be happy with his team. There's an interetsing question being posed on FIFA's site, I imagine to bloggers, asking if the Aussies are bullies (the team, that is). I have to say, unequivocally, yes.

50... I'm close to switching off ESPN and going on to UNIVISION: I'm getting a bit tired of the tendentiousness of the commenters, in Australia's favor, as if it would be an insult to the white race if the Japanese denied Australia a victory. Pathetic. The Australians have shown no reason why they should be so deserving of a spectator's enthusiasm, least of all compared with Japanese intensity.

54... Flirting with second-half blues. Japanese player down. Sideline tempers flaring. Australia resumes the attack, a long ball, a wasted ball, a Japanese goal kick.

56... Poor showings on international stages are nothing new for Australia: not a single goal when it made its only appearance in World Cup play, in Germany in 1974, not a single win when it played in the Confederation Cup last year, and so far this half, not a single attack on goal, let alone a shot on goal. This is barely a team. No wonder they take it out on the little guys when they get a chance (I'm referring to that 31-0 massacre of American Somoa in 2002). Corner, Japan, after two errirs by the Aussies.

65... Yet another feeblish attempt by the Aussies that doesn't really rise to the level of an attack, as opposed to the Japanese counter-attack grazing its way again into the penalty box. Cleared, however. What, pray tell, are these meager Aussie passes? where is their flair, their peripheral vision, their bounce? A move inside the box, a kick blocked by a Japanese player, and an aussie corner...Good effort there: there is hope that the Aussie blood is beginning to flare.

67... But here come the Aussies, and a free kick one inch outside the Japanese penalty area. A very dangerous kick coming up, a big chance for Aussies ... The wall is seven yards in front ofgoal.... SAVE! great shot, great save by Kawaguchi, penalty-like save. Unbelievable.

70... a fair build-up toward the Aussie box by the Japanese capped by a feeble kick stopped by an Aussie defender, and we're back in the Aussie half. Ball possession is even, play has evened out. If momentum keeps driving the Aussies' way, we're looking at an equalizer in the near future... Good intensity from the Australians. No lull here. They know what's at stake. They don;t make a showing here, they have no chance in the next two games. Australia doesn't want to look like France in 1940.

75... The game has opened up, but only because the players on both sides are flailing passes across the picth; the build-ups are sloppy, the finishes non-existent. Not a single shot on goal by the Japanese until this one in the 75th minute, a quick break-away run down the middle, a mis-times cross to a lateral player, who had to back-track 10 yards in front of goal before taking more of a hail-Mary shot, easily handled by the Aussie keeper. This is the sort of timing mistake you don't see from top-flight teams, where the play is more instinctive, better executed by nature.

77 Nasty foul-push by an Aussie player (John Aloisi), earning him a yellow as bright as his jersey, for cowardice.

79 And again a fair build-up by the Japanese, down the right wing, where the player was wide open, had all the time in the world for a cross, made it, but sent it sailing toward the Kuiper Belt.

80... Start the desperation clock for the Aussies. And one more silly Japanese lob into the penalty area, right into Aussie goalkeeper's hands, answered by an attempt on goal by Aussie Josh Kennedy, but not a very sober one. Ball sails past Martha's Vineyard.

82... and another shot by Aussie Neill Lucas, curling high and wide toward Belgium's cumulonimbus colonies.

Stupid Japanese foul, because unnecessary, free kick from 40 yards out for Aus... AND ANOTHER FANTASTIC SAVE BY KAWAGUCHI... BUT WAIT! bounce back,

85 GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL AUSTRALIA
GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL CAHILL

The goal came on an Aussie throw-in, a Japanese keeper's mistake (he came off his line), a huddle of players in front of goal, ball drops in front of Cahill, who's been Australia's hardest working player, and he opportunistically makes the most of it. 1-1.

88... Fantastic shot by Japan's Fukunishi just wide of goal... remember, a low-scoring tie will not help either team in this game. Australia keep pressing.

AND TIM CAHILL AGAIN! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL! Wonderful, wonderful play, a Japanese header badly cleared from the penalty area, lands on the feet of an Aus, who passes it to Cahill, Cahill swerves from his spot on the semi-circle just outside the boy, shoots, bang, right on the left goial post, bouncing into the net for a 2-1 lead.

93... LET ME CATCH MY BREATH! SUPERB, ONE MORE TIME FROM AUSTRALIA, ANOTHER GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL! 3-1

John Aloisi makes his way through a scrum of Japanese players, fires and scores! It's all done for Japan, it's hope tome for Australia, it's beer time for everyone! Great game, great capping end, and good for the goal count too. Well, the bullies deserved the 1-0 result against them at the half, but they deserve the 3-1 win in spades. They pulled it off, they made the best of it, they kept at it, and they gave us a wonderful show.

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