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Jun 12, 2012

Coach hails Socceroos spirit after draw

Six years to the day after the Socceroos' famous World Cup win over Japan, Australia again dug deep against the Blue Samurai to seal a 1-1 draw that beaming coach Holger Osieck hoped sent a message ahead of Brazil 2014.

At first, Osieck did not look like he would be all smiles after the crunch World Cup qualifier.

Key midfielder Mark Bresciano (hip) limped off in the first half before Mark Milligan was sent off in the 55th minute.

Then Japan appeared to deliver the killer blow 10 minutes later when dangerman Keisuke Honda found an unmarked Yuzo Kurihara in the goal square.

But a 69th penalty turned the game on its head.

Referee Khalil Al Ghamdi pointed to the spot after Atsuto Uchida brought striker Alex Brosque down and Luke Wilkshire did the rest, bringing the 40,189-strong crowd to its feet.

Osieck still couldn't wipe the smile off his face after Australia held onto a gutsy draw.

"What they showed today with one man down is hard to describe," he said.

"The team had to overcome all sorts of adversity.

"It sends a message not just to Japan but the other nations."

Milligan wasn't the only one seeing red after his dubious send-off - Osieck was ropeable with officials after watching his charge receive his marching orders for a diving challenge on Atsuto Uchida.

"I can't blame him at all," Osieck said of Milligan.

"That was a very, very dubious call from the referee. It was a cross inside and he clearly went to the ball and didn't even touch him.

"How could he give a red card for that? It was beyond my comprehension."

Almost as painful to watch for Osieck was Bresciano being subbed off in the 13th minute, replaced by Milligan.

Bresciano, 32, had been a standout in Australia's 0-0 draw with Oman last weekend and was again expected to control the game tempo against a confident Japan.

"It was very, very unfortunate that we lost Bresciano early because he provides that element of creativity that later on we were missing," Osieck said.

"You always need someone like him to make a difference.

"It was another blow for us. But our team fought through it. We showed our fighting spirit."

Suncorp Stadium threatened to erupt again in the 77th minute but defender Sasa Ognenovski's shot hit the cross bar.

There was more drama when Kurihara received a second yellow card in the 89th minute but Wilkshire's ensuing long range penalty shot was sensationally saved by keeper Eiji Kawashima.

Tim Cahill appeared to be on the outer with Osieck after not taking the field in six of their last seven internationals.

But Cahill was surprisingly injected into the starting side and proceeded to terrorise Japan in the first half.

He was again present in Australia's best first half scoring chance.

Cahill's header was crossed by captain Lucas Neill but somehow Kurihara defied Alex Brosque and cleared the ball off the line while lying on his back.

Japan's coach Alberto Zaccheroni tried to be upbeat after the draw ended his side's sensational start to the final qualifying stage - nine goals and two wins to put them on top of Group B.

"It was expected Australia play very well. But we had our chances," he said.

Japan sits five points clear of Australia in the standings but the Socceroos have a game in hand.

A top two finish in the group will guarantee a berth at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

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