Australia knew this was coming from Japan and a team brimming with confidence, like Arnold’s men should have been, after 11 straight wins might have been expected to dig in, frustrate their opponents and build the pressure.
Unfortunately for Australia that’s not what happened: their worst fears, and Japan’s best hopes, coincided in the eighth minute when Japan got the goal they craved, just their second after three earlier World Cup qualifying matches.
The problem began when the Socceroos lost the ball in central midfield and Japan broke smartly down the left, Liverpool forward Takumi Minamino firing in a cross that took a deflection: Behich tried to clear but took an air swing, allowing the ball to fall to Ao Tanaka who drove across goalkeeper Mat Ryan and into the far corner.
The dynamics of the match changed completely after this early goal as it meant the Socceroos would have to focus more on attack, giving Japan’s pacy and technically proficient players the chance to break into the space that would become available.
Australia initially responded well, winning three corners in quick succession forcing goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda into action.
But not until Adam Taggart hit the post four minutes before the interval did Australia really threaten in the first half.
Instead it was all Japan, playing with pace and precision, verve and intensity against a sluggish Socceroo outfit who struggled to maintain possession.
The hosts were getting plenty of joy in wide areas as Junya Ito on the right and the seemingly ageless Yuto Nagatomo rampaged down the left: the pair were aided and abetted by sloppy Socceroo passing, where all too often the final touch was poor and the delivery ended up with a blue shirt not a gold one.
Ito went close with a shot after Trent Sainsbury gave up possession shortly before Ryan had to dive at the feet of an oncoming forward to intercept Nagatomo’s cross.
Yuya Osako could have done better with his final effort after he ran through from midfield after Hrustic lost the ball, shooting wide as the chances for Japan began to mount.
They almost paid for their profligacy in the 41st minute when Taggart, hitherto a somewhat isolated figure, got free in the penalty area and fired a shot that struck the post, Wataru Endo blocking Mooy’s effort from the rebound.
Hiroki Sakai then went close with a header shortly after the restart as the hosts went in search of the second goal that would help them breathe easier.
Australia was creating little in the forward third and when they did they were unable to capitalise, Tom Rogic driving over after linking well with Mooy.
Behich was struggling trying to contain the flying Ito, and picked up a card for his troubles when he resorted to pulling his shirt to try and stop him.
Australia thought it had a penalty in the 65th minute when after Martin Boyle’s cut back to Hrustic saw Hidemasa Morita’s challenge on the Australian midfielder initially penalised with a spot kick.
After a lengthy VAR interlude the offence was downgraded to a free kick on the edge of the penalty area – not that it was to make much difference as Hrustic stepped forward to smash his shot in off the crossbar to make it 1-1.