BEIJING – Japan is bracing itself for an all-out battle against North Korea in a World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang on Tuesday even though the two teams are no longer playing for points.
With two matches left in the third qualifying round, Japan has already secured a spot in the final qualifiers, while North Korea’s hopes of progressing were dashed by Uzbekistan.
But the Japanese, who wrapped up two days of training for the match at Kim Il Sung Stadium, do not expect the North Koreans to simply go through the motions.
On top of the history between the two nations, North Korea will be keen to even the score for a 1-0 defeat at Japan in September, after taking the Asian champions goalless deep into stoppage time.
“You don’t get too many opportunities to play away with the national team,” Japan defender Atsuto Uchida said. “We’ve got a game to play and as long as we’re playing, I have no intension of losing.”
The Japan players do not appear to be overly concerned about making the trip to Pyongyang. The last time Japan played there was in 1989 for the 1990 World Cup qualifiers.
Zico’s Japan were set to play in Pyongyang during the final qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup, but FIFA moved the match to Bangkok behind closed doors as punishment for North Korea, who failed to control their own fans in their previous game.
“I’ve never been there, but it’s not the first time I’ll be going to a new country with Japan,” captain Makoto Hasebe said. “It’s one of the privileges and opportunities you get playing for the national team.
“I’m not too worried about actually going there. What concerns me is the soocer aspect of things, like the quality of our opponents, the atmosphere of the crowd, stuff like that. We don’t want to pick up any red cards that will carry over to the final round,” he said.
“The game could get really emotional so we have to make sure to keep our cool,” he added.