Australia wary of Japan ahead of crucial World Cup qualifier
Melbourne, Oct 10 (IANS) With just one point separating the top four teams in the group, the 2018 football World Cup qualifying match between Australia and Japan on Tuesday could prove crucial to both nations' hopes of making it to Russia.
The game, to be played at Melbourne's Docklands Stadium, is shaping as one of the most important of the Asian qualification tournament to date with Australia, currently on top of the group with seven points from three games, hoping to create a substantial gap between themselves and Saudi Arabia, reports Xinhua.
On the other hand Japan, currently sitting fourth in the group on six points following a shock loss to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at home in Saitama, is determined to remind the world why they were widely considered one of the two best teams in the group alongside Australia.
The Blue Samurai narrowly managed to keep their dream of making a sixth consecutive World Cup alive with a dramatic win over Iraq, in which midfielder Hotaru Yamaguchi scored a 95th minute winner, in Saitama on Thursday.
The top two teams in the group will qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia with the third-placed team to go into a playoff against a third-placed team from another region.
Ange Postecoglou, coach of the 'Socceroos', said that his team needs to be prepared for a Japanese side that finds itself in an unfamiliar situation, having previously negotiated the World Cup qualifying tournaments with little difficulty.
"They probably haven't started as strongly from a performance perspective as they would have liked," Postecoglou said.
"The quality of players they have. Regardless of how long we've been in Asia, over 10 years, regardless of the form or fluctuations of either, it's always tight and I expect it to be tight on Tuesday".
"They'll see it as a big opportunity for them to make up for the loss they've had at home. When you lose points at home you've got to pick up points somewhere away to make up for it".
"But we're at home. Conditions will suit us. Crowd behind us, I think the players will be looking forward to it."
Postecoglou flagged a couple of likely changes to the Australian team that drew with Saudi Arabia with midfielder Massimo Luongo, the 2015 Asian Cup player of the tournament, set to reclaim a spot in the starting 11 having been relegated to the bench for the last two games.
"We're really strong (in midfield), Mass was unlucky not to start the other night. When he came on again, as in the UAE, he really drove us forward," Postecoglou said.
Star Japanese midfielder Keisuke Honda said Tuesday's game was "as important as any he has played for the national team".
"The entire squad - from the players to the coaches to the team staff - understands the importance of the match and we have to fight this like a cup final," Honda told reporters here on Saturday.
"It's crucial, there's no two ways about that."
An expected crowd of more than 45,000 is expected to attend the game.