Australia will play Uzbekistan in the round of 16 of the AFC Asian Up after Japan came from behind to beat the White Wolves 2-1 at Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain.
Uzbekistan are ranked 95th in the world, 54 places below Australia and the White Wolves have never beaten the Socceroos in their three meetings.
Their last match was at the 2011 Asian Cup where the green and gold smashed the Uzbeks 6-0.
The Central Asian country is coached by veteran Argentine manager Hector Cuper, 63, who has previously coached Valencia, Inter, Mallorca, Real Betis, Parma and Racing Santander, and took Egypt to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Australia will face Uzbekistan on January 21 in the round of 16 at the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium at midnight AEDT.
The next round was decided after Uzbek and Japan were level at half-time with Yoshinori Muto heading an equaliser (43’) after Eldor Shomurodov's individual effort had given Uzbekistan the lead (40’). It was a wonderful strike by Tsukasa Shiotani (58’) that secured the win for the Samurai Blue, his first goal for his country.
Both teams had already qualified and clearly had their eyes on the remainder of the tournament. While Uzbekistan made five changes to their line up Japan’s changes were wholesale with only Koya Kitagawa having played in Japan’s last match and seven of the other ten selected playing for the first time in the competition.
It made sense as while Uzbekistan now take on Australia, Japan’s task won’t be easy with either Qatar or Saudi Arabia as opponents in the next round.
After testing each other out for the first few minutes the first chance of note came in he 13th minute when Junya Ito got behind the defence but couldn’t quite find Muto in the middle.
Two minute later and Ito was again the provider this time from a free kick that fell invitingly for Tomoaki Makino but he was unable to keep his volley down.
Uzbekistan then had their first chance of the game with Dostonbek Khamdamov pulling the ball back to Shomurodov who fired his shot over the bar but he should have done better with the space he’d been afforded.
It was Takashi Inui who produced the first save of the game when Ignatiy Nesterov had to get down smartly to deal with the slightly mishit shot from the edge of the area. The Uzbek goalkeeper was then called into action again having to tip the ball over for a corner when Kagawa turned and shot from the edge of the area.
Shomurodov had scored in each of the first two group games and, in the 40th minute, he kept up his record. Khamdamov slid the ball through to him and he cut inside between two defenders before poking the ball past Daniel Schmidt with the outside of his right foot (0-1).
Japan was level within three minutes. Sei Muroya put over a lovely cross from the right wing and Yoshinori Muto found enough space at the far post to plant a firm header into the back of the net (1-1).
With it all square at the end of the first half, Ito was called into action in defence seven minutes after the interval having to put in a last ditch block as Fozil Musaev lined up a shot. Moments later and the busy Japanese midfielder was testing out Nesterov who had to beat out his shot.
With the game opening up Muto tried his luck for his second goal curling his shot over the crossbar and shortly afterwards Inui came even closer with another long range effort.
Their period of pressure paid off in the 58th minute when Egor Krimets clearance went straight to Shiotani who plays for the local club side, Al Ain, and he smashed the ball into the corner of the goal from 25 metres out (2-1).
Uzbekistan looked as though they had been tiring but they began to lift their game as they searched for an equaliser but it was Japan that came close on the break. In the 82nd minute Ito was again involved feeding the ball to Muto who spotted Kitagawa in space but he blasted his effort over the bar.
Davron Khashimov thought that he had produced the equaliser when he struck a venomous shot from well outside the area but Schmidt saw it all the way and was able to tip it over the bar as the ball headed for the top right corner.
Japan held on and had managed to win all three of their group games without being entirely convincing in any of them while Uzbekistan will face Australia, the team they lost to 6-0 the last time they faced each other in the semi final of the 2011 tournament in Qatar.