Socceroos captain Lucas Neill with team-mate Josh Kennedy.
Socceroos captain Lucas Neill with team-mate Josh Kennedy. SMP Images - Geoff Jones

'We'll take the draw'

CAPTAIN Lucas Neill says the Socceroos are still in top gear on the road to Rio despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Japan in a pulsating and controversial game at Suncorp Stadium on Tuesday night.

"We'll take the draw," Neill said. "Both teams were pleased with it. If Japan keep beating their opposition and we keep beating ours then we'll both be on our way to Brazil."

Neill said he was proud of his team's fighting spirit after it played the last 35 minutes of the game with 10 men following Mark Milligan's sending off for a second yellow card and then going a goal down to a Japan team boasting the likes of superstars Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda.

"They are a fantastic team," he said. "This is arguably the best Japanese team that's ever been put out. If we can keep pushing each other that's only going to close the gap on the rest of the world.

"But let's give credit to our boys. We're been playing against a very good team, and we're showing that spirit... Down to 10 men, fantastic from everybody."

Coach Holger Osieck was also full of praise for his charges, who last week were playing in scorching heat during the 1-1 draw in Oman.

The team received criticism for the performance from some sections of the media, who also questioned whether some Socceroos players were now too old to play for their country.

Osiek was not quite as gushing in his assessment of referee Khalil Al Ghamdi's, however, questioning the decision to show Milligan his second yellow for what the official deemed to be high contact.

"I was of the opinion at the moment it happened that it was definitely not a foul and I got confirmation when I saw the replay," Osiek said. "Milligan tried to kick the ball and he couldn't see (Uchida) coming from the back, it was definitely no foul because he didn't touch Uchida at all."

Milligan's sending off was just one of a number of poor decisions from Al Ghamdi at Suncorp Stadium.

He also handed Australia a lifeline with a dubious penalty award which Luke Wilkshire put away to level the scores five minutes after Yuzo Kurihara had put the Japanese in front following a fantastic pass from the brilliant Honda.
Kurihara also saw red for another questionable second yellow card late in the game.

Thankfully for the 40,000 plus crowd at Suncorp Stadium, the referee's poor performance was not mirrored by the two sets of players who, on the anniversary of the Socceroos' 3-1 triumph over the Blue Samurai in the 2006 World Cup, served up another classic between the two teams.

Tim Cahill and Alex Brosque starred for the home team and the Socceroos should have been in front at the break.
After half-time, however, Manchester United-bound Kagawa and the wonderful Honda began to take control and even before Milligan's red card, Japan looked the more likely winner.

But the Socceroos' renowned fighting spirit shone through and they could have sneaked an unlikely win when Sasa Ognenovski hit the bar late on and Wilkshire had his shot brilliantly saved in the last minute by Japan keeper Eiji Kawashima.

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