An hour after Japan had clinched a record six straight World Cup qualification with a 2-0 win over Australia, deep in the bowels of Saitama Stadium their towering defender Maya Yoshida was talking new contracts and champagne.
Dom Perignon to be precise, as he told FOX Sports Asia.
“Hopefully we can take some champagne tonight and because I have a new contract the manager has already told me that I have to pay.
“The players though they don’t understand that kind of alcohol they just know they want an expensive one, so I’ll have to get the Dom Perignon!”
The Premier League defender did more than enough though to have someone pay for his drinks too on an evening where the host nation scored two delightful goals, the first from surprise selection Takuma Asano and the second from young midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi.
In the process not only did Japan book their ticket to Russia but they also overcame a hoodoo that had seen every single Japan team that lost their opening match (2-1 to UAE in this case) at this stage of qualification fail to reach the World Cup and they also defeated Australia for the first time in a World Cup qualifier – achievements that delighted the Southampton defender.
— #WCQ (@FIFAWorldCup) August 31, 2017
Even with those new marks though Yoshida declined to say that Japan should now once again be considered the top dogs in Asia.
“Today we did very well against Australia and the fact that we could overcome losing that first match lifts me and everyone in the team up, but Australia are still the Asian champions and so you can’t say we have an advantage in this rivalry.
“Now though is not the time to think about that because we are so happy that we can go to Russia and we want to do well at the World Cup.”
For Australia it was a case of what could have been as they matched Japan for long stretches of a first half where they struck the post before they were outplayed by the hosts over the second.
The Socceroos captain, Mark Milligan told FOX Sports Asia that it was an opportunity missed for his nation.
“We needed to adapt to the way that they played and try to move the ball quicker and keep moving them around, but Japan are a tough team at the best of times let alone at home but it was disappointing to fall short tonight on such a big occasion.”
That result means that no longer is Australia’s fate solely in their own hands as the final round of Group B matches don’t, unusually, kick off simultaneously.
With Saudi Arabia’s surprise loss to the UAE earlier in the week it means that the Green Falcons and the Socceroos are both locked on 16 points heading into the final matchday next Tuesday but the Saudis have a two-goal better differential as they host Japan whilst Australia will need to chase goals against already-eliminated Thailand.
— #WCQ (@FIFAWorldCup) August 31, 2017
On the other side of the draw things are even tighter as Syria stunned Qatar 3-1 in Malaysia and with China defeating Uzbekistan 1-0 in Wuhan that means that the Syrians are within touching distance of a historic World Cup qualification.
Indeed, if Uzbekistan defeat Korea – who drew 0-0 with Iran – they will leapfrog the Koreans and a win for Syria against the already qualified Iranians means that it will go down to goal difference as to which nation will qualify in a final round of matches that should provide plenty of thrills.
But for now the celebrations can continue in Japan as they confirmed their reputation as one of the continent’s most consistent nations as they brushed aside intense speculation about the future of their manager – who refused to take questions post-match after noting that several members of the media had wanted to see the end of his tenure – and a slow start to qualify for Russia whilst benching what many outside of the country consider to be their best players and trust a new breed of young talent.
One of the veterans though was still as delighted to have qualified once again with goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima telling Fox Sports Asia that even as he is headed to his third World Cup finals appearance the joy isn’t diminished.
“It’s a really good and amazing feeling and we made it at home with a lot of supporters and all the Japanese people were expecting us to do it.
“It will be my third World Cup if I make it but we have to focus on that and while we’re happy today and we can celebrate we need to start again and focus on Russia because we’ve been through some really difficult moments in this qualification and we’ve been under pressure the whole time and have played a lot of different players, including younger ones but now a good flow is coming to the team.”