The stall set, a job done, tonight's was another mechanical and methodical performance from a team that has warmed to Pim's process of accumulating points and qualifying.
Far from pretty, but effective, Pim Verbeek is proving himself the master of the clean sheet and the nil-all draw.
For a football nation like ours, young and desperate not to have to wait another 32 years to reach the big dance, it’ll do for now.
Hopefully, if and when we’re there, the football will follow, for the pressure to get out of the group will be there and the clamour for better football will heighten.
Tonight was about earning another point on the road to South Africa, and Verbeek and his men worked the house down to ensure they got it. Yeah, there was a little bit of luck, but for the most part this point was build on incredible work-rate, wonderful organisation and a little bit of half time tinkering.
Verbeek did spring a surprise with his team set-up. Instead of the mooted 4-2-3-1, he went with a Christmas tree 4-3-2-1, with Culina lining up alongside Grella and Valeri in the second line, and Bresciano and Holman playing narrowly in behind Cahill.
It effectively made it a five man midfield, with little or no width. By playing Bresciano and Holman so narrow, Verbeek effectively ceded the flanks to Takeshi Okada, and the quick Uchida took advantage of the space afforded to him down the right.
This forced Chipperfield to step up and meet Uchida around the half-way line every time he received the ball, effectively disrupting the Socceroos back-four shape. The livewire hole-man Tetsuya Tanaka was clever enough to exploit the space in behind Chipperfield, sprinting diagonally and dragging Moore out of position, allowing Japan to get in behind a couple of times. It looked dicey for a while.
As they struggled to keep the ball (Bresciano and Holman were the most culpable), the pressure and fouls mounted on the Socceroos, Holman guilty of giving away a few. Fortunately Nakamura and Endo weren’t able to find the magic ball, and for all the Blue Samurai’s possession and control, they failed to trouble Schwarzer.
This was largely down to the resilient scrambling and reading of the game of Neill and Moore, outstanding throughout, and the incredible work-rate and commitment of the men around them.
Verbeek should also take further credit for adjusting things at the break. Recognising Uchida’s influence, he asked Valeri to step up and meet him, thus allowing Chipperfield to sit with the back four, and keep the shape.
It worked a treat, Chipperfield outstanding in the second period as Japan’s threat down the right waned.
On the other side Wilkshire was a monster, from start to finish, while the holding trio of Grella, Culina and Valeri shuttled their way to a stand-still, affording very little freedom to the Japan midfield. Only the Endo strike from the edge of the box, strongly dealt with by Schwarzer, comes to mind.
Otherwise, every Socceroo was in touch.
Now Verbeek’s men really are within touching distance of South Africa, six points ahead of third place. If the stay as organised and focussed, it will be a matter of process and few more clean sheets.
Perhaps the football and planning for South Africa will start once enough points have been accumulated.
As for Japan, all the talk of this game being a must-win was well off the mark. The point will do. Certainly, on this form, they are still good enough to finish top two and reach another World Cup.