Seoul, South Korea
With two losses in three games already in qualifying for the World Cup, Japan must beat Australia on Tuesday in Saitama or face the real prospect of missing the World Cup for the first time since 1994. In contrast, the Socceroos are in excellent shape. and will take a big step towards Qatar with a victory.
With just the top two of the six-team squad qualifying automatically for the World Cup, Japan are already six points behind Australia and Saudi Arabia in Group B.
A 1-0 loss to Saudi Arabia in Jeddah last Thursday raised questions as to why Japan, with a squad full of European stars such as Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino, Celtic’s Kyogo Furuhashi and Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu, are in trouble.
The most recent loss, which came after a shocking home loss to Oman in September, was fraught with unusual mistakes and misplaced passes. It has also increased criticism of coach Hajime Moriyasu.
âWe got tired and lost our pace, that’s when they capitalized and scored,â said Moriyasu. “If we don’t give up I think we can still win a World Cup ticket,” added the 53-year-old.
Australia, on their way to a fifth consecutive World Cup, arrive in Japan full of confidence after winning their last 11 games.
“This is something we will probably think about in the future and what a great achievement it has been, especially playing 10 of the 11 away games,” said Australian coach Graham Arnold. “But for me it’s about going to Japan and getting ready for Japan in Japan and doing 12.”
Saudi Arabia can grab four out of four wins to stay on track for a sixth World Cup appearance when they host China. The visitor, who aims to return to the world stage for the first time since his first appearance in 2002, claimed a first victory in the squad on Thursday, beating Vietnam 3-2 thanks to a last-minute goal from Wu Lei.
Vietnam are still chasing their first points and travel to Muscat to face Oman, tied for three points with Japan.
In Group A, the big shock comes as Iran, first with the most points, welcomes South Korea in second position. Korea are yet to impress, but remained on track for a tenth consecutive World Cup appearance on Thursday as a goal from Son Heung-min beat Syria 2-1.
The match in Iran is Korea’s first trip away from the squad.
âIt’s not a decisive game. It’s just one more game, âKorea coach Paulo Bento said. âIt will be a tough game and a very good challenge for us. But I’m sure it will be a tough game for them too.
Korea have never won in seven meetings in Iran, losing five and drawing two, although Bento insisted he wouldn’t settle for a point against Asia’s top team, ranked 22nd by FIFA.
We should play and fight for three points, âhe said. âFrom the start, we are not going to play to draw. We are going to play to win the game.
The other four teams in Group A have yet to win. The United Arab Emirates welcome Iraq to Dubai while Syria and Lebanon, both still looking for their first World Cup appearances, also meet.