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Honda drives Japan to World Cup

June 04, 2013 19:27 IST

Asian champions Japan became the first side to qualify for the World Cup finals in Brazil when playmaker Keisuke Honda scored an injury-time penalty to claim a 1-1 draw with Australia in Saitama on Tuesday.

The Blue Samurai dominated for long spells but Australia hung on and Tommy Oar put them in front in the 81st minute when his cross from the left looped over Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, who flapped and failed to clear.

Matt McKay was then adjudged to have handled a cross from Honda in the penalty area in stoppage time and the bleach blond CSKA Moscow attacker stepped up to leather the spot kick straight down the middle.

The point leaves leaders Japan on 14 points from seven matches in Asian qualifying Group B, meaning they are assured of reaching the 2014 finals as one of the top two.

Keisuke HondaJapan lie seven ahead of Australia who moved above Jordan on goal difference with both sides having played a game less.

Oman (six points from six games) host Iraq (five from five games) later on Tuesday.

The draw was the least Japan deserved from a game they dominated for long periods with Honda, recalled after a thigh injury, and Shinji Kagawa causing the visitors all sorts of problems.

Both went close to goals in the first 20 minutes as the Australians struggled to deal with the high tempo and intricate passing of the Japanese.

The Socceroos recalled veteran defender Sasa Ognenovski to partner experienced captain Lucas Neill in the centre of defence and, despite sitting deep and inviting the Japanese on to them, the duo just about kept the home side at bay.

The second half continued in the same fashion as Kagawa clipped the crossbar in the 60th minute and full back Yuto Nagatomo wasted a good break with a tame effort in the 80th minute from the left.

The Socceroos made them pay for their wastefulness when Oar was the beneficiary of another error by Kawashima but Honda came to the rescue with a late equaliser that means they will take part in a fifth consecutive finals.

Image: Keisuke Honda

Photograph: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

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