Hasebe the hero as Japan keep Tim Cahill quiet in World Cup qualifier

Japan can look back with satisfaction on their gritty 1-1 draw with Asian Cup champions Australia in a 2018 AFC World Cup qualifying match on Tuesday night.

In a first meeting between familiar foes in two years, Genki Haraguchi gave the Japanese a fifth-minute lead before the Socceroos equalised through Mile Jedinak's penalty early in the second half.

Here are three thoughts on Japan's performance at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium:

1. Validation for Vahid

Just 18 months into the job, Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic was desperate for a good result after a shaky, final round campaign so far.

A home defeat to United Arab Emirates was followed by a routine victory against outsiders Thailand. But the former Yugoslavia forward had to rely on a 96th minute winner by Hotaru Yamaguchi in Saitama last Thursday to see off Iraq. It was a long-range goal that may have saved the job of the 63-year-old, whose relationship with the Japanese media has quickly deteriorated.

Heading to Melbourne, Halilhodzic would have had many things on his mind. The absence of both his starting full-backs was a concern, and the fact that many his top Europe-based stars, including Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki and Maya Yoshida, are struggling for game time at their respective clubs.

But his fears were quickly eased when a well-taken goal from Hertha BSC winger Haraguchi gave Japan a dream start.

Australia were sloppy defensively early on, and Trent Sainsbury's misdirected pass was pounced on in a lightning-fast counter attack. Honda's ball put Haraguchi in the clear, and he produced a poised finish past Mat Ryan.

Then, the Samurai Blue showed defensive steel to frustrate the 2015 Asian champions, who dominated possession, but carved out few clear-cut chances from open play.

The only blemish was Haraguchi's clumsy challenge on Tomi Juric in the 51st minute that led to Jedinak's successful spot kick.

Halilhodzic went close to losing his cool in the technical area in the second half, and had to be warned by the Bahraini referee. But, despite all his arm flapping, the ex-Paris Saint-Germain boss could be well satisfied with the result after declaring before the game that he'd told his players how to exploit the Socceroos' "weak point".

And Japan went close to grabbing all three points before Ryan's wonder-save on Yu Kobayashi's 75th minute header.

2. Heroic Hasebe

Makoto Hasebe was immense in midfield, producing an inspired captain's performance to stamp his mark on the game.

He comfortably got the better of the battles with Aston Villa hard man Jedinak. He cleverly coaxed his opposing skipper into a foul in the 16th minute before releasing Haraguchi 12 minutes later down the left. The goal scorer cut inside Ryan McGowan before sending his shot narrowly wide.

In past contests between the two nations, the technically adept Japanese have tended to dominate possession. But this time, they were often on the other side of the ball, watchful and disciplined, and sure to keep their shape, with Eintracht Frankfurt's Hasebe leading by example.

In the 32nd minute, with the home side growing in confidence, he disarmed playmaker Aaron Mooy to diffuse a dangerous situation.

But even Japan's biggest attacking names had to join Hasebe in doing their share of defensive work. Honda, who had gone close to doubling Japan's lead just before the half-hour with a left-footed shot on target inside the box, produced a robust defensive header from a Mooy corner five minutes later.

Shinji Kagawa got between Massimo Luongo and the ball, drawing the foul, just as the Queens Park Rangers midfielder pushed into the box in the shadows of half-time.

After the break, when Australia upped the tempo and looked more dangerous, the Japanese resistance was equally impressive.

3. Keeping Cahill quiet

Although Hasebe made his international debut as a 22-year-old before the 2006 World Cup, he wasn't in Japan's squad for the tournament in Germany. But, he watched on television as Tim Cahill came off the bench, helping turn a 1-0 Japan lead in the opening Group F game, into a 3-1 Socceroos' romp, thanks to a quickfire double.

Cahill has hurt the Samurai Blue in other matches -- he scored another brace in a 2-1 victory over Japan on the road to the 2010 World Cup -- but not in the Victorian capital where he now plies his trade with A-League side Melbourne City.

He entered the game in the 69th minute for Juric, with the crowd expecting fireworks. But the former Everton attacker barely got a meaningful touch, and picked up a 90th minute yellow card for an apparent elbow on Hasebe.

Southampton central defender Maya Yoshida played an important role in keeping the 36-year-old quiet during his late cameo. Mooy's 77th minute cross was floated into the box, but Cahill couldn't make proper contact. The last kick of the game, deep into injury time, was a corner aimed at Australia's top scorer, but the Japanese comfortably cleared the danger.

Indeed, left-back Brad Smith, struggling for game time in the Premier League at Bournemouth, posed a lot more problems to the visitors than the Sydney-born forward.

Japan will never feel totally comfortable when Cahill is on the field -- five of his 48 goals have come against them -- but their somewhat makeshift side took a step towards putting the Cahill ghosts of Kaiserslautern to rest on a damp Melbourne evening.