Despite defeat against Japan and Australia’s 11 game win streak coming to a close, Socceroos midfielder Ajdin Hrustic is confident that they will top Group B and qualify for a fifth consecutive FIFA World Cup.
Australia's record-breaking run in World Cup qualifying ended on Tuesday when Japan inflicted the Socceroos' first competitive defeat since the 2019 Asian Cup.
The Socceroos performed admirably in front of 15,000 fans at the Saitama Stadium, but it was not enough to stop Japan from taking all three points.
While Hrustic scored a world-class free-kick to level the score in the second half, the scoreline finished 2-1 in favour of the Samurai Blue.
Hrustic expressed his disappointment after the match and vowed that the Socceroos would bounce back.
“First of all, we are devastated because we dropped three points here,” Hrustic said post-match.
“I think we deserved it if you look at the way we've been going with 9 out of 12 points.
“If we were to come away with a 1-1 draw, we would accept it but conceding a goal in the last few minutes of the game, it does hurt.
We have to keep our heads up and continue doing what we have been doing.
“We will keep going and I’m 100% sure that we will finish on top. Especially if we keep playing the way we have been playing.”
Hrustic’s free-kick was originally awarded as a penalty by the referee after he was brought down on the edge of the box by Hidemasa Morita. However, after the penalty was awarded, VAR intervened and overturned the onfield decision.
While the thunderous strike from the subsequent free-kick so nearly provided a crucial point for Graham Arnold’s Socceroos away in Japan, Hrustic said they must now focus on the remainder of the qualification campaign.
“It’s done now and we must close this chapter,” he explained.
“We need to continue the way we have been going. It doesn't matter who scores, as long as they go in.”
Following the loss to Japan, Saudi Arabia overtook Australia and now top Group B in the battle for two guaranteed places from the section at next year's World Cup.
The Socceroos next meet Saudi Arabia in a home game on November 11, and Football Australia are in advanced discussions with the NSW Government regarding hosting the match in Sydney under a Quarantine Management Plan.
To qualify for a fifth consecutive FIFA World Cup™, Australia must finish either first or second in Group B, which includes ten matches to be played from September 2021 to March 2022, to qualify directly.
A third-place finish would send the Socceroos to a play-off against the third-place team from Group A, followed by an intercontinental play-off.