Football isn’t called the beautiful game for nothing and Wednesday night’s fixture against the Japanese U-23s justified its colloquial reference.
Dominated in possession and shots for the most part of the game, the resilience and never-say-die attitude we showed throughout the game in defense came through in attack, equalizing in the 94th minute thanks to a composed finish from Dakota Lucas.
Inheriting the underdog status going into the game, we had talked about being dogged in defense, knowing that the longer we kept Japan scoreless, the more frustrated they would become.
Throughout the first half we were predictably under the pump, but stubborn defending from our backline along with some fine saves from keeper Jake Gleeson ensured the score line remained 0-0 going into half time.
With a small tactical change in the second, we found ourselves on the ball more frequently as the combinations throughout the team began to find its straps.
Nonetheless, Japan had all of the chances, in the second half and after hitting the bar twice they got what the 35,000 strong crowd felt was just rewards by scoring in the 71st minute.
However, just as Japan thought the result was theirs, Kosta Barbarouses picked up the ball 35m from goal and ran at the Japanese defense in one final attempt to salvage a result. He slipped Marco Rojas who stepped over the ball, which left a wide-open Lucas to pick his spot and calmly slot the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the goal.
No matter what the possession, shots on goal or time in opposition half stats say, being able to leave the stadium on level terms with a late smash and grab goal vindicates why they call football beautiful.
We know we have a lot to learn and a lot to do in terms of where we want to be by the time we play Belarus on August 26th but there were many positives also.
With the team only being together 2 days prior to the game, training twice, missing a couple of key players and playing a new formation, to get a result like that is extremely encouraging.
We will take it in our stride, learn from our mistakes and look to move forward in our next game against South Korea U-23s on Saturday (July 14).