Tokyo (Reuters): Japan booked their place next year’s World Cup final with an emphatic 2-0 win over Australia in Saitama on Thursday that took their Asian rivals’ hopes of qualifying for Russia out of their own hands.
Takuma Osano scored four minutes before the break and 21-year-old midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi covered himself in glory with a sumptuous finish in the 82nd minute as the Samurai Blue sealed a sixth straight appearance in the global showpiece.
Japan are now assured of finishing top of Group B in Asian qualifying before their final match away to second-placed Saudi Arabia, a match that Australia will watch nervously.
Level with Saudi Arabia on 16 points but two in arrears on goal difference, the Socceroos will hope for a handsome win over Thailand in their final qualifier and for Japan to beat or hold the Saudis to a draw.
With Australia’s final match in Melbourne on Tuesday scheduled first, Saudi Arabia will know exactly what they need to do to snatch the second direct ticket to Russia when they take the field against Japan in Jeddah.
The third-placed team faces two playoffs to reach the finals, starting with the third-placed side in the other Asian group.
Japan join Iran, Brazil and hosts Russia in the 32-team tournament, which will be held from 14 June-15 July next year.