Despite still being away from home, Jackson Irvine could not be happier to see fans attend a Socceroos match for the first time in nearly two years.
While the Socceroos lost 2-1 to Japan and ended their 11-game winning streak in front of 15,000 supporters in Saitama, there were 100 lucky Australian’s who witnessed the match.
Chasing a historic first-ever win over the Blue Samurai on Japanese soil, Australia fell behind within the opening ten minutes before Ajdin Hrustic levelled the score in the 70th minute with a superb free kick.
Japan were desperate for a win though and with a home crowd behind them, the Socceroos good work was undone as they cruelly conceded the winner in the 86th minute.
Despite the Japanese fans only filling just over 20% of the Saitama Stadium due to COVID restrictions, Irvine knows just how much of a difference their support would have made to the Blue Samurai’s performance.
“Fans always make a difference, it's why we play the game,” Irvine explained.
You play the game for the supporters and for your families, that's why we love the game.
“It was brilliant to play a game in front of some of our supporters, although the majority were home supporters for Japan.
“Fingers crossed that we will be playing games in front of fans in Australia sooner rather than later.”
The result leaves Australia second in Group B with nine points from four games. Having narrowly beaten China on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia are top with 12 points after an unbeaten start to the third round of qualifying.
To automatically qualify for a fifth consecutive World Cup, the Socceroos need to finish in the top two of Group B, but first, they must regroup from the defeat in Japan.
“Obviously it’s a really tough one to take,” Irvine said.
“We left a lot out on the pitch and we played really well in spells.
“We lost a poor goal from our point of view, I know that is sometimes a cliche but we're disappointed with the manner in which we lost.
“We've been on a fantastic run of games recently, this is obviously a really tough fixture but we're pleased with the overall performance.
We will take that forward and be looking for six points in the November window in a few weeks.
“Every game presents its challenges, all the teams in the group are a threat and so far, we've been really good at nullifying the threats and focusing on our performances.
“On paper, the match against Japan is one of the toughest games in the group but every game presents its challenges and we will approach each game in the same way.
“We know being focused is what's put us in the position that we're in now which is still a strong one.”
Irvine’s midfield partner and fellow German-based Socceroo, Ajdin Hrustic, scored a goal to remember against the Blue Samurai.
Just seven games into the 2021/22 German Bundesliga campaign, Hrustic has already almost equalled the minutes he managed last season, and on Tuesday, he transferred that form to the international stage.
The 25-year-old struck a thunderous free-kick into the top corner to level the score against Japan in Saitama after the Green and Gold were denied a penalty by VAR.
While Irvine praised his dead-ball abilities, he warned that there is plenty more to come from the Bundesliga talent.
“It was a fantastic finish, the kid has fantastic technical abilities and he’s playing at an unbelievably high level,” Irvine said.
“It’s a joy to play alongside him but we've got an abundance of talent across the squad and it gives the manager a few headaches with selections.
“We're all here to contribute as well but Ajdin certainly did so with a fantastic finish.”
Moving forward, Football Australia are in advanced discussions with the NSW Government regarding the Socceroos hosting a designated home AFC Asian Qualifier – Road to Qatar match against Saudi Arabia on 11 November, in Sydney under a Quarantine Management Plan.