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Saitama: Japan booked their place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup as Group B winners after goals from Takuma Asano and Yosuke Ideguchi secured a 2-0 win over Australia  on Thursday.

Asano volleyed home Yuto Nagatomo’s inswinging cross in the 41st minute, sending the 59,492 crowd at Saitama Stadium into raptures, before Ideguchi wrapped things up with an effort from range with eight minutes to play.

Both teams started without several key players, with Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa left on the bench for Japan and Aaron Mooy out for the visitors, and the Samurai Blue started the livelier of the two with Hiroki Sakai heading just wide from a corner in the second minute and Takashi Inui seeing an effort deflected past the post 12 minutes later. 

Mathew Leckie fired a warning shot for the Socceroos in the 38th minute, Maya Yoshida sticking out a leg and diverting the strike onto the post, but just three minutes later Asano beat the offside trap to put Japan in front.

Australia threw everything at Vahid Halilhodzic’s side in the second half, including sending Tomi Juric and Tim Cahill on from the bench, but it wasn’t enough and in the end Ideguchi struck the game’s all-important second goal with a superb effort from 20 yards to secure Japan’s passage to their sixth straight World Cup.

Australia now need to beat Thailand at home in their final qualifier on Tuesday and hope Japan pick up at least a point away to Saudi Arabia if the Socceroos are to make it to their fourth straight World Cup. If Saudi Arabia win that game then it will go down to goal difference.

Photos: AFP