Matchday 4 of the AFC World Cup Qualifying Third Phase is headlined by Australia and Japan renewing their rivalry on Tuesday night.
After setting an international record of 11 consecutive wins on Friday morning, the Socceroos will head to Saitama looking for win number 12.
It will be one of their toughest tasks on the road to Qatar next year as they try and keep pace with fellow Group B pacesetters Saudi Arabia.
Read on and see what we are backing for this match below.
Australia maintained top spot in AFC World Cup Qualifying Group B with an 11th consecutive win, defeating Oman in their home away from home, Doha.
While they could not extend their impressive run of eight clean sheets from their last ten matches, goals from Awer Mabil, Martin Boyle and Mitch Duke were enough to get them home.
Meanwhile Japan slumped to it’s second defeat from three matches, going down to Saudi Arabia 1-0 in Jeddah.
They were not without their chances and will feel like that match could have gone either way, however having already fallen behind in the race for automatic qualification, it shrunk their margin for error.
Head to Head History
As two powerhouses of the AFC, it is somewhat surprising to discover that this will be the first meeting between these sides in over four years.
Since Australia entered Asia, they have been drawn against Japan in every World Cup Qualifying phase however history is not on the Socceroos side.
The Socceroos have not won in Japan in their history, with their only victory as the away side coming in a 1970 AFC-OFC World Cup Qualifying tournament in South Korea.
Their last victory over Japan came in June 2009 at the MCG courtesy of Tim Cahill and since then, the record is less than inspiring.
Excluding two friendly defeats, the Socceroos have drawn three times and lost twice against Japan including a 2-0 defeat in Saitama in their last match in 2017.
While Japan’s recent form is somewhat troubling, they have the confidence of a good history against the Aussies.
Whether it is in victory or defeat, Japan’s three World Cup Qualifiers in this phase have all followed the same pattern, first goal wins.
In their two defeats, both goals have come after the 70 minute mark while their victory over China saw them take the lead five minutes before halftime.
While Both Teams to Score has hit in six of the last seven matches between Japan and Australia, the recent history does not lean into that trend.
In fact, it seems far more likely that we are headed for an arm wrestle that is decided by a solitary strike.
That’s the first play for this match.
Back Under 1.5 Goals
Considering the likely low scoring nature of this match, a case could be made to steer clear of the goalscorer markets.
Adam Taggart has lead the line in all three matches in this phase and should get the call again in this massive fixture, however his lack of production thus far is somewhat concerning.
Especially when you consider Mitch Duke has come off the bench and scored in two of the three matches as well.
It’s tough to justify backing Duke here though as he will likely see 20 or so minutes in this one.
Instead I’ll look towards the wing and back Awer Mabil to make it three goals in four matches for the national team.
Normally the second bet would be another Aussie, Harry Souttar however in this instance, I have to not only abandon my stubborn position on the defender but back one of the Japanese players for a bit of insurance.
Yuya Osako is the only player to score for Japan in this phase of qualifying and has registered 24 goals from 50 matches for the national team.
If Japan are going to score, he will be the primary option.
Back Awer Mabil Anytime Goalscorer
Back Yuya Osako Anytime Goalscorer
This might be the most vulnerable Japanese team the Socceroos have faced in quite some time, but given the history between these sides, you can expect the Samurai Blue to bring out their best on Tuesday night.
With six points already separating the two teams Japan knows how important getting something from this match will be to avoid essentially needing to win out over the final six fixtures.
Even a draw keeps Australia within striking distance and we’re still waiting for that statement performance from Graham Arnold’s men.
11 consecutive wins is impressive regardless of the opponent, but the Socceroos have been meticulous rather than ruthless in that time.
A draw would not be a bad result for the Australians in one of their two toughest assignments.
It is tempting to follow the heart and take Australia to win, but that might be just a bit too optimistic against a desperate Japanese side.
Their struggles have me a touch hesitant backing Japan to win outright so the best outcome here is to split the difference and back a draw.
Back the Draw