It would be incredibly easy to over analyse the vital World Cup qualifier between Japan and the Socceroos on Thursday night.
Much could be made of the back three played recently by coach Ange Postecoglou and the fact that it needs much work to become defensively reliable. Reams could be written on potential team selection, from where Australia’s goal(s) will come and how the Socceroos will manage to convert against their traditional foes.
On the other side of the ledger, one could point to a Japanese team coming off two relatively disappointing results against Syria and Iraq, and develop a thesis that sees a Socceroos win.
Perhaps those 1-1 draws have made the Japanese susceptible to the Australians in terms of topping the group, something that looked unlikely just a few matches ago.
Potentially the Socceroos could play a physical brand and impose themselves on the opposition, thus intimidating and unsettling the hosts, as Josip Skoko has called for early in the week.
You can find some logic in each and every one of these theories.
Much energy could also be put into analysing the ladder, the potential ramifications pending the penultimate match for the Socceroos and the goal difference statistic that makes the entire equation seem even more precarious for Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia.
We could bounce around the numbers and grapple with the prospect of a do or die qualifier against Thailand in the final match if things don’t pan out too well against the Samurai Blue.
I could throw numbers at you. Tied on sixteen points with the Saudis, one point behind Japan. A win here puts us two clear. A loss turns up the heat against Thailand. We could roll those numbers around for hours and still get nowhere.
Much could be made of the fact that the Socceroos haven’t beaten Japan since 2010. Yet three draws from the last five could be interpreted as a positive.
Extrapolating the results even further, we could take the pessimistic line and anticipate a play-off match against Uzbekistan and if successful, a clash with a CONCACAF lucky loser.
There is a mighty lot of guess work in what is written above and it all means nothing.
The reason being, we all know what to expect on Thursday night at the Saitama Stadium. However, knowing what to expect and computing a result are two completely different things.
Japan will bring a nimble and speedy, ball on the deck style of attack that is manic in its execution.
While looking a million bucks, they will try to break down a Socceroos defence that needs to remain patient, disciplined and particularly vigilant early in the clash, an area of major failing in recent times.
The Japanese can bamboozle young minds with their fleet of foot style and for the Socceroos to make an impact in Japan, they will need to stay with the home side for as long as possible.
Alternatively, Australia will enter another clash with their nemesis, with a perceived advantage both in the air and physically.
Finding late goals as shorter defenders tire and lose concentration, such as Josh Kennedy’s goal in the previous World campaign against Iraq, is something many believe to be, one of the advantages that the Socceroos possess.
Whether it is actually something that will expose the Japanese defence or just a myth based on a series of circumstances and moments in previous encounters is up for discussion.
Personally, I am not convinced that it is necessarily the case in 2017.
However the Aussies have been far better from the set piece than open play in recent months and perhaps they will ‘go to the well’ again with Tim Cahill being the most likely source.
So the Japanese will be fast, elusive and effervescent while the Socceroos will be dour, controlled and looking to hold firm until a late winner arrives, perhaps in the form of a headed goal.
What else is assured? The atmosphere will be immense and taking the Japanese crowd out of the game is a forlorn hope. The Australians will have to deal with a cauldron and deal with it for the full period.
The game will be billed with the usual ‘powerhouses’ of Asia back-drop and this will add another layer to what is becoming a storied sequence of games between these two proud nations.
Epic encounters between the two teams now stretch over an extended period of time and as such, make each meeting even more significant. This is exactly what football in Australia has been striving for in the modern era.
Now able to match wits with most international competition, long-term rivalries with teams like Japan, add romance to our footballing story and this week adds another chapter.
In all, while it will be easy to get caught up in the numbers and find logical reasons for the Socceroos to qualify for Russia 2018 or fall in a screaming heap after a loss on Thursday, don’t fall for it.
Ignore the numbers, the logic, the theories and the permutations presented. We know what ‘they’ will do and we know exactly what we ‘have’ to do.
Let’s just hope the boys do us proud. Let’s do this one for Les.