Japan seal World Cup berth with win over Australia

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Japan sealed their berth in this year’s Word Cup in Qatar with a dramatic victory against Australia that also confirmed Saudi Arabia’s qualification for the competition.

Two late goals from replacement Kaoru Mitoma in Sydney ensured Japan’s berth in Qatar with a game to spare.

Victory placed Japan top of Group B of Asian qualification, over Saudi Arabia who are four points clear of Australia.

Australia now face a play-off battle to reach a sixth straight World Cup.

The Socceroos next face Saudi Arabia in Jeddah in what is now a dead rubber on Tuesday, before moving on to face the country that finishes third in Group A in a play-off game on 7 June.

With two group games to play, the United Arab Emirates stand third in the group, three points clear of Lebanon, while Iraq are a further point adrift.

The winner of the tie moves on to a play-off against the fifth-placed team from South America.

Japan needed to defeat Australia on home soil for the first time since 1998 to advance, and seemed to be heading for a tedious stalemate against a Covid-19-stricken Socceroos until Mitoma came off the bench to break the tie in the 90th minute.

Takumi Minamino struck the crossbar twice in the first half and then saw a six-yard shot cleared off the line by Trent Sainsbury in the 80th minute.

Mitoma came on in place of the Liverpool attacker in the 84th minute and quickly latched on a cut-back pass to beat goalkeeper Mat Ryan and cause wild celebrations from the visitors.

Mitoma then put the victory and qualifying beyond doubt five minutes later when he slipped through Australia’s exhausted defence and beat Ryan once more.