Japan boss vows to fight for World Cup place against Australia

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan are not out of the 2022 World Cup qualification picture yet, manager Hajime Moriyasu said yesterday, as the embattled Asian giants prepared to host Australia in a crunch match.

From their opening three games in Asian qualifying Group B, Japan have taken only three points, leaving them in real danger of missing the World Cup for the first time since 1994.

Moriyasu’s side slumped to a 1-0 home defeat against Oman before beating China 1-0 away, then lost 1-0 to Saudi Arabia in a dismal performance last Thursday in Jeddah.

Japan have their backs to the wall going into today’s game in Saitama against an Australian side that last week became the first team ever to win 11 straight games in the same World Cup qualifying campaign.

“Of course, we’re aware we’re in a difficult situation,” said Moriyasu, who Japanese media have speculated could lose his job with anything less than a win.

“But we knew before the qualifiers that it would be a tough campaign, and we’re still in with a chance. We’ll go into tomorrow’s game fighting for a place at the World Cup.”

Japan’s coach Moriyasu Hajime speaks with Yuya Osako during a training session at King Abdullah Sport City Stadium in Jeddah. PHOTO: AFP

Moriyasu admitted his team have struggled to get up to speed physically, and there was “a gap between what we’ve wanted to do and what we’ve been capable of doing”.

Japan would have to “read the game and play smart” against Australia, said Moriyasu, who played alongside Socceroos manager Graham Arnold with Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the J-League.

Australia top Group B on goal difference ahead of the Saudis, with Japan currently out of the automatic qualification spots for Qatar 2022 in third place.

“We’ll look at their strong and weak points and see how we can match up against them,” said Moriyasu.

“They’re a strong physical team, and on top of that they’ve got good technique.”

Australia have racked up three wins out of three despite being forced to play their home games on the road due to COVID restrictions.

Arnold said the Socceroos will not be tempted to play for a draw in Saitama, and he expects “a great performance” from his team.

“What we can do is focus on ourselves and make sure that our players are mentally and physically ready for the game tomorrow night,” he said.

“Our focus is more on ourselves. I expect a great game tomorrow night.”

Arnold also refused to rule Japan out of the qualification picture.

“There are 10 games, so we’re only three games into it at the moment,” he said.