MUSCAT – With a spot at Brazil 2014 coming ever closer into view, Asian champion Japan has arrived here wary but confident ahead of Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier against Oman.
Japan breezed past Oman 3-0 at home in Saitama in June and could have won by a greater margin had it not been for some fine goalkeeping from Wigan Athletic custodian Ali Al Habsi.
Oman, though, is unbeaten at home so far and held Australia to a 0-0 draw here, but CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda says that has provided the Blue Samurai with even more motivation to take three points in its final game of 2012.
Victory over Paul Le Guen’s men will put Japan, five points clear at the top of Group B, on the brink of qualifying for its fifth World Cup finals in succession.
“No team has won here so far (in the final round) and that gives us extra motivation,” said Honda. “We want to be the first ones to do it.”
“We were able to win the last time we played them (in June) because we got off to such a great start,” added Honda, who opened the scoring against Oman in Saitama and also bagged a hat trick in a 6-0 demolition of Jordan a few days later.
“But they have a sturdy defense and (on Wednesday) it won’t go the same way we expected it to go in Saitama. They will come at us quickly when they find chances to get forward.”
Ryoichi Maeda has scored in all three of Japan’s home games and is eager to hit the target in his first away World Cup qualifier.
“I want to take out my frustration (on Oman) by scoring,” said Maeda, referring to the disappointment of missing out on playing against France and Brazil in away warmups for the Oman game because of a calf injury sustained while with the squad in Paris.
Wednesday’s afternoon kickoff is set to be played in temperatures of over 30 C and Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni admitted the heat was his main concern.
“No mistake the hot weather is my only concern,” Zaccheroni told a news conference on Tuesday. “I’m sure both Japan and Oman want to play to their absolute limits but I can’t imagine what influence the heat is going to have on the game.”
“I’m sure the game would be played at a different pace if it had been arranged to take place at eight in the evening,” said the Italian.
However Al Habsi has played down the significance of the heat, pointing out that Japanese players are used to playing in similar temperatures at home in the summer.
“It’s not like when you play in June and it is 50 degrees,” said Al Habsi.
“It’s 30 degrees and a good temperature for us and the Japanese players. We are used to it and even for the Japanese players, in the summer there it is going to be like that so it is no big difference.”
A defeat to the Omanis, who along with Australia have five points, would not severely damage Japan’s chances of qualifying but Zaccheroni insists there will be no complacency from his players.
“I don’t know how many points we need to actually qualify so I am telling the players that each and every game in front of them is important. I know this game will be tough with Oman being at home but I want to win and am asking the players to get a result.”
On the team front, Zaccheroni is without Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa and Schalke defender Atsuto Uchida, while Jubilo Iwata defender Yuichi Komano will undergo a late fitness test after pulling out of training on Sunday with a sore lower back.
With Mohammed Jaber and Saad Suhail out, Le Guen has selection problems of his own and is under no illusions over the task his side faces.
“Of course I have to believe in my squad but I am not a dreamer either. I am not a newcomer in football and I know the difference in potential between these two squads,” said the Frenchman.
“That’s why I am very motivated but also very humble. Everyone could check the difference between the two squads during the first game but we play at home, we believe that it is possible. My only regret is that we are missing two defenders and I think it is a big blow for us because Saad and Jaber are massive players for us, but I rely on players that will be on the pitch.”
He added, “It is going to be amazing to play in front of a full stadium and I think it is because of the reputation of the Japan team but also because we have improved and we are still in the running to qualify.”