Yosuke Ideguchi's stunning late strike sealed Japan's qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia as the Samurai Blue won 2-0 over Australia in Saitama on Thursday night.
The Socceroos now have to wait until they face Thailand on Tuesday for a second chance to book their place. The Aussies must make up a two-goal deficit while outdoing Saudi Arabia's result over Japan on the same day to seal automatic qualification, and avoid the playoffs.
Goals in each half from Takuma Asano and Ideguchi gave the Japanese a well-deserved victory as the hosts showed quality in attack and steel in defence, while the visitors toiled at the back and failed to find a cutting edge.
Here are three things we saw in Australia's first defeat of the third round:
1. Australia let down in defence
From the opening minute, the Australian defence looked far from comfortable. The tone was set when Matthew Spiranovic needlessly put his side under pressure by conceding a corner. This led to a second corner, and a minute later Hiroki Sakai almost put the hosts ahead when he headed Ideguchi's kick just wide.
In the 15th minute, Brad Smith's poorly weighted header back to Mat Ryan had the goalkeeper scrambling to keep it in play. He managed to prevent a corner, but from his kick out possession was conceded and the subsequent Japanese attack led to another corner, from which Asano headed against the outside of the post.
The Samurai Blue won four corners in the first 16 minutes before the visitors worked their way into the game.
But the Australians were their own worst enemies again when another turnover in possession saw Yuya Osako bringing a save from Ryan with a shot from 20 yards.
And when the Japanese opened the scoring on 41 minutes, the defending left much to be desired. Yuto Nagatomo floated in an exquisite ball from the left and Asano stole in to side foot the ball home. Smith had simply been caught napping and stood still as the Japan striker attacked the space.
The defence looked equally uncertain at the start of the second half as Japan went in for the kill with their pace in attack.
As Australia went in search of the equaliser, things inevitably became more stretched before Japan's clinching goal.
2. Too little, too late for blunt Aussies
The Australians had just one decent effort on goal in the first half, but even that owed a great deal to a slice of luck. After some patient build-up play, Matthew Leckie's low shot from the edge of the box took a big deflection off Maya Yoshida before coming back off the post.
There was a close shave at the start of the second half when Yoshida had to make a last-ditch challenge to force the ball back to Eiji Kawashima in goal.
But despite decent spells of possession, the Socceroos could not create any clear-cut opportunities. Tom Rogic was peripheral in midfield before being replaced by Tim Cahill, with the Australians undoubtedly missing the drive of Aaron Mooy, who had failed to get over a bout of illness.
There was a glimpse of an opportunity in the 69th minute when Matthew Leckie crossed for Robbie Kruse, whose effort was deflected wide. There was then panic in the Japan box two minutes later when Kruse crossed low and Tomi Juric was denied by some desperate defending.
But the pressure failed to result in any near things for Japan whose defence was generally comfortable in keeping out their opponents throughout.
3. Gamble pays off for Japan
Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Genki Haraguchi started on the bench in a must-win game for the Samurai Blue. It was perhaps a high-risk strategy from head coach Vahid Halihodzic to leave three experienced and proven performers watching from the sidelines in a match of such importance.
But the energetic attacking of Asano, Takashi Inui, Sakai and Ideguchi ensured that their more illustrious team-mates were barely missed. Asano and Sakai tormented Smith down the right in the first half in particular.
The hosts could and should have wrapped things up as they missed several of the type of chances that the Aussies had failed to create. Ideguchi came agonisingly close when his powerful shot was cleared off the line.
Halihozic then showed the strain when he got involved in an angry confrontation with the referee as his side failed to kill off their opponents.
But Ideguchi stepped up to send the crowd wild and book Japan's place in Russia. With just seven minutes remaining, he danced inside from the left before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the top corner from 20 yards.
And Halihodzic could congratulate himself on selecting the young blood of 22-year-old Asano and 21-year-old Ideguchi ahead of Japan's biggest stars.