Japan 1 - Australia 3

Tim Cahill became the first and second goal scorer for Australia in men's World Cup finals history - and was awarded the FIFA 'man of the match' after playing only the final 38 minutes of the match - in a come from behind 3-1 win over fellow AFC members Japan.

Conditions more accustomed to the cricket season rather then football greeted both teams and fans alike in Kaiserslautern Fritz Walter Stadium, in the smallest of the world cup host cities with a population of just 100,000. 30C temperature and low humidity would be a test of stamina for both Guus Hiddink (Australia) and Zico (Japan) in this opening game of Group F.

The sea of gold created by the Australian supporters at one end of the stadium was outnumbered 2 to 1 by dark blue jerseys worn by nearly all Japanese fans, and whilst the Australians were out-numbered they did their best to be heard - but could not compete with the well drilled Japanese fans with more recent experience in major tournaments.

Australia went into the match with 1 draw from 3 games (and 0 goals) in world cup finals history whilst Japan from 2 previous appearances had 2 wins 4 losses and a draw scoring 6 goals and conceding 7.

With what must be a major disappointment to German organizers, FIFA and the football fans from both nations the match was played in front of areas of empty seats, another ticketing debacle to add to the list of ticketing problems that have plagued this world cup.

Australia had an early scare when Marco Bresciano fouled Hidetoshi Nakata on the edge of the penalty area just off to the right of the Australian goal the resultant free kick was deflected away by the Australian wall, which stayed as one.

In the seventh minute Australia had their first chance to open the World Cup account and Australian skipper Mark Viduka could have become the answer to trivia questions for decades to come but it was not to be.

Viduka coming down the right hand side forced a double save from the Japanese keeper, two chances that would have suited Australia as they searched for an early goal as part of the match plan.

The Japanese attack seemed to be able to turn the Australian defence at will and it was only through poor ball control that we didn't see them score - and to add to this they wasted numerous free kicks.

26 minutes gone saw a trademark Viduka back heel which found its mark in Bresciano, who let rip with a blistering 17m shot that Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi in the Japanese goal couldn't secure, but the subsequent bouncing was quickly dealt with by the Japanese defenders.

It was Japan which opened the scoring in this game, which was an historic fixture in more ways then one as it was the first time two teams from the Asian Confederation have met at a world cup finals.

An innocuous looking cross from Japanese and Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura was sent across from the right as Mark Schwarzer came for the ball, Japanese and Hamburg striker Naohiro Takahara seemed to turn and barrow into Schwarzer. As Takahara and Schwarzer fell to ground the ball sailed into the net. 0-1

What seemed to be a clear foul by Takahara was missed by both the referee and presumably the assistant referee who does have the added luxury of radio communications with the referee. The goal stood and the protests by Harry Kewell and co. did nothing to change the mind on the Egyptian referee.

Harry Kewell showed some brilliance from the re-start and could have equalized straight away but his shot went screaming over the bar.

Half time came and it was time for both coaches to earn their money.

Zico's team had the advantage of being one goal to the good and would have known that if he could conjure some more ball control from his players more goals would come, while for Australia, that the defence unable to match the pace of the Japanese attack would have been a concern for Hiddink.

The Australian coach would have known his team would have to play to its strengths on this dry flat pitch to pull the goal back which meant using its size advantage - of which so much was made of in the lead up to the game.

It only took 8 minutes into the second half for the changes to start for Australia when Tim Cahill was brought off the bench to replace Bresciano but there was no fairytale first touch goals but a different fairytale was to unfold.

Japan could have gone two up after a dreadful header by Schwarzer (caught out of his area) at a bouncing ball. The ball fell to the feet of Teruyuki Moniwa who ran straight towards the Australian goal but again the Japanese finishing let them down.

The game then began to turn, with Australia pushing more players forward allowing for more attacking options - but also allowed Japan to make counter attacks at pace.

The Japanese keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi kept his team in front with a further two blistering saves - one from the dead ball and another from open play.

The sustained pressure and the addition of the 192 cm tall Joshua Kennedy for Australia in place of defender Craig Moore on the hour mark finally worked when Tim Cahill made history.

A long throw from Lucas Neill into the penalty area had Kennedy draw two Japanese defenders. Harry Kewell lurking behind Kennedy for the headed on ball then had his shot blocked but just as against the Netherlands in the lead up to this tournament Cahill was on the spot to drive the ball past a diving Kawaguchi.

Australia was level but under-manned at the back, and again Japan came agonizingly close to finishing the match. Takashi Fukunishi, unmarked, shot wide from 20 yards in front of goal. Japan was about to play the ultimate price for poor finishing and wasting opportunities.

John Aloisi, who had come on for Luke Wilkshire in the 75th minute, linked brilliantly with Cahill for a 21m strike which struck the inside of one upright before bouncing across the goal and into the net on the other side. 2-1 in the 89th minute which saw the Australian bench to rush the field.

This silenced the fans in blue but the fans in yellow had something to cheer about - and cheer they did.

Three minutes of stoppage time was to be played and each and every one of the 180 seconds was counted down by every Australian in the here and wherever they watched the game.

That was until Kennedy linked up with Aloisi to make it 3-1 in the 93rd minute. Aloisi found himself one-on-one with the keeper and made no mistake with his shot. The door was shut and locked.

After the match Australian coach Hiddink said "everyone was happy in the Australian dressing room and that justice had been seen. The referee will be thankful of the result because there were 2 side attacks on the goalie - OK it happens but you expect a free kick or a yellow or red but not a goal. We kept going after halftime and stuck with our planned changes - everyone knew the plan".

Hiddink was asked about his tactics and singled out the Japanese midfield. "We watched Japan vs Germany and saw the strength of the midfield for the Japanese side - this was analyzed and we tried to take this away".

Hiddink offered a slight apology to the FIFA official with whom he had got into a small scuffle with around a TV monitor after the Japanese goal, "Why can everyone in the stadium except for the coach see the replay, I wanted to see and they were trying to hide it from me. So I offer a slight apology".

Asked if he thought it was an escape Hiddink said, "It was not an escape, an escape happens when it is your fault and it wasn't our fault. I was not happy with the straight long ball - we need to build up more out wide, then send the ball in for the attack"

A clearly delighted man of the match Tim Cahill said "It means everything to be here, we dream of this as boys". Japan coach Zico was disappointed. "We did't know how to make the most of our goal advantage, Australia kept putting more strikers on and had the extra men up front. We had the chance to finish the game, but didn't. You don't score goals, you conceded goals", he added.

Seven cautions were issued in the match (with four to Australia) by Referee Essam Abd El Fatah who, with his two assistant referees, looked beyond their capabilities in front of a (technical) sell out of 46,000. With so many empty seats however for the entire match, perhaps the scalpers were left high and dry. Hard to believe with so many fans from both sides watching the game on big screens in the towns Fans Fest site.

written by Trent Dickeson