Tuesday, June 13, 2006

World Cup clash starts Australia and Japan rivalry

A new Asian football rivalry may have emerged from yesterday's FIFA World Cup Group F contest between Australia and Japan played in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Australia, representing Oceania at this tournament but the newest member of the Asian Football Confederation (and ranked lowly by FIFA at 42) punished the current Asian champion, Japan (ranked at 18) in a 3-1 victory. Substitute Tim Cahill made history in dramatic style, scoring Australia's first goals in a World Cup final with two goals in the last six minutes followed by another by substitute John Aloisi in injury time.

A disputed goal from Shunsuke Nakamura had given Japan a 26th-minute advantage, his cross floating over keeper Mark Schwarzer who seemed to have been impeded by Atsushi Yanagisawa as he came to punch clear. Egyptian referee Esam Abd El Fatah waved away furious protests from the Socceroos at the time but after the game reportedly apologised to the Australians for a wrong decision.

Australian player Lucas Neill was asked if he realised he had just played in one of the great moments in Australian sport. "I hope so," he said. "I just think it epitomises what Australia's all about. Every sport we compete in, we've got this never-say-die attitude. We never know when to quit and we have all been brought up as winners, and I think it has shone through again today."

Before the game, the Australians reacted angrily to allegations by Japanese Football Association chief executive Saburo Kawabuchi. "Australia are guilty of a lot of dirty fouls," Kawabuchi told sports magazine Japanese Sport Daily Hochi, as reported by The Age (Melbourne). "They target ankles in particular. Japan must stand up to them." Playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura also bought into the argument, saying Japan hopes to be able to draw fouls around the edge of the box because of the Socceroos' penchant for getting stuck in.

But Socceroos coach Guus Hiddink described the Japanese comments as "irresponsible behaviour" and said the furore arising from Australia's style of play in the 1-1 draw against Holland last week was designed to influence referees. "That's ridiculous," an angry Hiddink said of the comments. "I am getting very angry when people are suggesting this. We have a good team, they like to fight in a game, and when people come out with this (these comments) ... it is irresponsible behaviour."

Mark Viduka, Australia's captain, echoed Hiddink's sentiments. "I don't know what all the fuss is about," the Middlesbrough forward said. "As Australians, we play fair. We are very competitive people and we like to win. We will never pull out of a tackle but that doesn't mean that we go out to hurt people.

In other World Cup matches involving Asian teams to date, Iran (ranked 23) was beaten 1-3 by Mexico (ranked 4), South Korea (ranked 29) beat Togo (ranked 61) 2-1 and Saudi Arabia (ranked 34) drew 2-2 with Tunisia (ranked 21)

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