So Japan’s Blue Samurai defeated the Socceroos 3-2 in an almost empty Hwaseong Stadium, in South Korea. It was the second match of the East Asian Cup for both sides, with both coming off first round draws against China and South Korea respectively. As expected both managers fielded experimental line ups and the final wash up was exactly what the two nations were hoping for. Both Japan and Australia saw some individuals stand up and say ‘count me in’ for Brazil 2014.
For the Japanese it was winger/midfielder Manabu Saito who stamped his name most prominently on the match. The left sided Yokohama F Marinos player scored a super goal to exclamation mark his brilliant performance. Throughout the match he had the Aussies second guessing his every move. The goal came about in a similar manner to his recent strike against J League leaders, Omiya Ardija. A brilliant solo run capped off by an angled shot to beat the keeper at the far post. One for his highlights reel, which will have the talent scouts in Europe queuing for his signature.
For the Socceroos it was the turn of Mitch Nichols. The 24 year old Queenslander who recently linked up with his former Brisbane Roar mentor Ange Postecoglou at Melbourne Victory, proved to be an inspired second half inspiration. While the Japanese have put Australia’s late revival down to their own fatigue, more credit should be given to Nichols. He gave the Australians attacking options that they lacked in the first half. His brilliant passing game provided opportunities for teammates and eventually his headed pass for Mitchell Duke led to a goal for the Socceroos. The instinctive pass highlighted his soccer intelligence and his overall performance will have manager Holger Osieck pencilling his name in for Brazil. “Mitch helped create a lot of opportunities in the attacking third . . .” the German said. In truth Nichols is closest to a Bresciano clone as the Socceroos will get.
As well as Saito and Nichols impressing there were also promising performances from Japan’s Yuya Osako who grabbed two goals and Tomi Juric who picked up one for the Australians. At the end of the match Australian manager Osieck explained, “Down the road when I consider the purpose of our participation at the competition, I will take a lot of positives from the game.” The same can be said for Japan. From this point it’s Australia v China at 05:15pm and Korea Republic v Japan at 8pm local time.