Australia and Japan have an amazing football rivalry. The last two times we played them in World Cup qualifiers, we drew 1-1. So guess what happened in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier in front of 48,460 people at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne on Tuesday night?
You guessed it. It was 1-1 again.
In truth, Japan were probably slightly the better team, especially in the first half. Their defence was as solid as a sumo wrestler, and the opening goal in just the fifth minute was fittingly scored on the counter attack -- a direct result of an unsuccessful Australian attempt to penetrate that relentless blue wall.
Japan seemed to put an extra man back after that, and Australia had absolutely no way through. The closest they got in the first half was through a couple of set pieces, none of which seriously threatened.
The second half brought new energy, and an Aussie goal within the first 10 minutes. Some nice lead-up play from Tom Rogic who plays his professional football in Scotland, saw the ball centred in the direction of Tomi Juric, who plays his professional football in Switzerland.
Juric was taken down by some clumsy Japanese defending, and Socceroos skipper Mile Jedinak coolly slotted the penalty just right of centre, as the goalie dived the other way. Here's how that looked from the cheap seats,
That was the end of the scoring, but the excitement was just beginning. The second half was unrecognisable from the first, with play swinging from end to end. Australia brought on speed men out wide in the likes of Robbie Kruse, and also brought on its talisman Tim Cahill late in the game, though for once his impact was limited.
Despite the Aussie resurgence, genuine chances were few, and indeed Japan had the best chance of the half, with only a fantastic low diving save from Aussie keeper Matt Ryan saving the day.
"It was a game of two halves," Socceroos skipper Mile Jedinak said, employing one of everyone's favourite sports cliches. "We got forward and were sucker-punched trying to force things. We just got sucked into a trap.
"But we expected a reaction from ourselves and that's what we got. At half-time we regrouped. We were a bit more patient and put them on the foot, and it was unfortunate we didn't get that second goal."
So Australia earns a valuable point and marches on towards the World Cup in Russia in 2018. It's now six years since we've beaten Japan -- the nation who we beat in our first ever World Cup win in 2006 -- but we're still on track to qualify for the 2018 Cup.
The qualifying tables are here. Australia sits atop its group, and must finish in the top two to ensure automatic World Cup qualification.
Our next game is away to Thailand on November 15.Suggest a correction