BRISBANE- Luke Wilkshire scored a controversial second-half penalty as Australia held on for a 1-1 draw against Japan in a World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.
Both teams finished with 10 men but Australia will be more satisfied with the result after surviving with a man short for more than half an hour.
Midfielder Mark Milligan was sent off for a second yellow card in the 56th minute for making contact with Yasuhito Endo’s back when attempting to volley towards goal, and Yuzo Kurihara capitalised with a goal eight minutes later.
But referee Khalil Al Ghamdi stunned the Japanese by awarding a spot kick to Australia for an even more innocuous incident in the penalty area in the 69th minute.
Defender Atsuto Uchida was given a yellow card for dragging at Alex Brosque near the goal-line, but the contact appeared negligible and the striker did not appeal for a foul. Wilkshire slotted home from the spot.
Australia coach Holger Osieck slammed Al Ghamdi for the Milligan sending-off.
“That was a very, very dubious call by the referee,” Osieck told broadcaster Fox Sports. “(Milligan) didn’t even touch him … I don’t see how he could give a card for that. It’s beyond my comprehension.”
Japan remain top of Asia’s Group B with seven points, having won their first two qualifiers against Oman and Jordan. Australia also drew with Oman in Muscat.
In a match billed as a battle for Asian supremacy, Japan started nervously but their youth and superior pace discomfited the Socceroos, who are again relying on a core of ageing veterans to steer them into a third successive World Cup.
Australia, who lost in extra time to Japan in the Asian Cup final last year, peppered Japan’s goal in the opening minutes but were denied repeatedly by goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.
The keeper repelled a drive from Tim Cahill with his legs in the sixth minute and parried away a searing strike from Wilkshire seconds later.
Japan striker Shinji Okazaki glanced a header just right of the post and Uchida sent a gilt-edged chance over the bar in the 43rd minute.
Australia lost in-form playmaker Mark Bresciano to injury and substitute Milligan earned a first yellow card only six minutes after coming on.
Milligan’s sending-off after half-time opened the door for Japan. After a corner, Keisuke Honda went past defender David Carney to thread a cross to defender Kurihara who slotted past Mark Schwarzer.
After Wilkshire’s equaliser, the Socceroos came close to stealing victory when defender Sasa Ognenovski hit the bar in the 77th minute.
Goal-scorer Kurihara was sent off for a second yellow card in the 89th minute before Wilkshire rocketed a free kick past the Japanese wall in injury time, only to be denied by Kawashima diving low to his left.