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Shinji Kagawa retains friendship with Juan Mata, united in charity

DFB Pokal: Shinji Kagawa (90') Magdeburg 0-5 Borussia Dortmund
Shinji Kagawa finds himself carrying the burden of Japan's hopes as he enters his first World Cup finals.
Saudi Arabia moved ahead of Australia in Group B and qualified for the 2018 World Cup with a 1-0 win over Japan.
Former Man United defender Paul Parker is left wondering if Jose Mourinho will play not to lose or attack Tottenham at home.

From Dortmund dynamo to Old Trafford outcast and back, Shinji Kagawa's seven-year European adventure has been an eventful rollercoaster ride for the creative, yet fragile, playmaker.

While his two-season stint with Manchester United provided few positives -- a hat trick against Norwich in his Premier League-winning season aside -- the enduring friendship struck up with Juan Mata has at least yielded something of note that could have a much greater long-term impact.

Kagawa's decision to sign up for...

Socceroos' World Cup playoff evokes memories of Uruguay miracle

Australia and Syria will go head-to-head in the first round of a series of playoffs on the road to next year's World Cup.

The opening leg on neutral soil in Malacca, Malaysia, on Thursday will be followed by the second leg in Sydney on Oct. 10.

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The winners will face the fourth-placed team from the CONCACAF zone in another two-legged playoff for a place at Russia 2018.

Here are five memorable playoffs from around the region:

North Korea v Australia, Phnom Penh, 1965

It was the days before the World...

 By Paul Murphy

Thailand won't roll over for Socceroos after defensive improvements

Japan qualified for their sixth straight World Cup following their 2-0 win over Australia.
Australia's Jackson Irvine credits Japan's game plan and still feels Australia can qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

BANGKOK -- Australia would be well advised not to take a more defensive Thailand lightly as they attempt to seal automatic qualification from Group B in Tuesday's final matchday of the World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign.

The Socceroos' 2-0 defeat to Japan on Thursday has left them in a precarious position, with a crushing win over the Thais their best chance of booking their place in Russia next year.

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They will need to overturn a two-goal deficit compared to Saudi Arabia to avoid being subjected...

 By Paul Murphy

Australia lack penetration, let down in defence in World Cup loss to Japan

Australia's Jackson Irvine credits Japan's game plan and still feels Australia can qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Japan qualified for their sixth straight World Cup following their 2-0 win over Australia.

Yosuke Ideguchi's stunning late strike sealed Japan's qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia as the Samurai Blue won 2-0 over Australia in Saitama on Thursday night.

The Socceroos now have to wait until they face Thailand on Tuesday for a second chance to book their place. The Aussies must make up a two-goal deficit while outdoing Saudi Arabia's result over Japan on the same day to seal automatic qualification, and avoid the playoffs.

Goals in each half from Takuma Asano and Ideguchi gave...

 By John Duerden

Tim Cahill to draw on World Cup 2006 heroics to inspire Australia vs. Japan

ESPN FC's Jason Dasey and John Wilkinson look ahead to Japan's clash against Australia in AFC World Cup qualifying.

One day in the far future, a crunch game between Japan and Australia will be discussed without mentioning Tim Cahill. Long after the Socceroos' legend stops punching corner flags for good, it will be easier for Japan to forget what he did in the nation's first World Cup meeting 11 years ago.

Ahead of Thursday's crunch 2018 World Cup qualifier in Saitama, Cahill's familiar figure looms large.

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Closer to 40 than 35, he may not be the force of nature that he once was. But his usual spot on the substitutes...

 By Rob Brooks

Japan hosts Australia in what could be Asia's definitive World Cup qualifier

ESPN FC's Jason Dasey and John Wilkinson look ahead to Japan's clash against Australia in AFC World Cup qualifying.

"To make it to such a prestigious tournament, you have to beat the best."

Tim Cahill's words on Fox Sports echoed out in anticipation following the draw for the third round of 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

As Asia's top nations were separated into two groups in April last year, it became clear that Group B would be largely defined by the clashes between the two most recent champions of the continent -- Japan and Australia. In particular, the match in Saitama on the penultimate matchday always loomed...