SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — An Australian own-goal kept Japan in the race for an automatic spot in next year’s World Cup.
Australia defender Aziz Behich put the ball into his own net in the 85th minute Tuesday to give Japan a 2-1 victory and six points from four matches in Group B, three points behind the first-place Aussies.
Australia goalkeeper Mat Ryan tipped a shot from Takuma Asano and the ball bounced off the post and then ricocheted off Behich and into the net.
“We kept fighting until the end and never gave up,” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said. “We showed our determination to get to the World Cup.”
Only the top two teams from each of the two six-team groups will automatically qualify for the tournament in Qatar.
Ao Tanaka gave Japan an early lead at Saitama Stadium, but Ajdin Hrustic equalized for Australia in the 70th minute.
“Both teams had a go at each other,” Australia coach Graham Arnold said. “We were unlucky that we hit the post but … at the end of the day, it wasn’t meant to be but we are on nine points after four games.”
Australia, which had won 11 straight games, was awarded a penalty kick midway through the second half when Hidemasa Morita brought down Hrustic on the edge of the area. But before Martin Boyle could take the kick, referee Abdulrahman Al-Jassim of Qatar reversed the call after a video review, ruling that the challenge had taken place just outside the box.
Japan is seeking a seventh straight World Cup appearance. Australia has appeared at every World Cup since 2006.
“It was a great win for us but there are still a lot of difficult games to come,” Moriyasu said. “We have to make sure we build on this win.”
In Group A, Iran and South Korea drew 1-1 in an empty stadium in Tehran.
Son Heung-min gave South Korea the lead early in the second half. Alireza Jahanbakhsh then headed in an equalizer to keep Iran at the top of the group with 10 points, two more than second-place South Korea.
Japanese players celebrate after Australia’s Aziz Behich, third from right, makes own goal during their World Cup 2022 group B qualifying soccer match between Australia and Japan, at Saitama Stadium 2002 in Saitama, north of Tokyo, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)