DOHA – Japan has been given a timely boost after one of coach Alberto Zaccheroni’s most trusted players on Saturday declared himself fit to play in Tuesday’s crunch World Cup qualifier away to Jordan.
Laid low with a fever earlier this week, Gamba Osaka utility man Yasuyuki Konno returned to train with the team on Saturday after sitting out Friday’s 2-1 warmup win over Canada in Doha.
“I feel in really good condition and I am confident I can play,” Konno said after a light 90-minute workout of stretching, running and ball work at Khalifa International Stadium.
“I really wanted to play against Canada to get in prime condition ahead of the Jordan game so I was disappointed about that and I really want to start in the next game.
“It would have been nice to have had a bit of mini-game type practice today but I did a lot of running and put myself through a fairly comprehensive workout after the Canada game and feel ready.”
Japan has had its preparations for the Jordan game scuppered by a number of injury setbacks.
CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda has been sidelined by a mystery illness and Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo (knee) is also missing from the squad.
Yokohama F. Marinos defender Yuzo Kurihara and Nuremberg’s Hiroshi Kiyotake have had minor fitness issues but are fit to play in Amman.
Stuttgart defender Gotoku Sakai was on the only player to sit out Saturday’s training session with a sore hamstring and worked out alone at the team’s hotel.
A win for Japan against Jordan, which it hammered 6-0 at home in Saitama in June, would guarantee a berth at next year’s finals in Brazil.
The Asian champions could also go through with a point if Australia and Oman also draw in an earlier kickoff Tuesday in Group B, but Konno insisted the team would not be changing its game plan even if news filtered through that Australia and Oman had finished all square.
“Regardless of whether the other game ends in a draw, our plan is to go for the win,” he said.
Japan was set to have a final training session on Sunday morning before leaving for Jordan.
Spain remains positive
Spain may be the reigning European and world champion, but the Spaniards will arrive in Paris for Tuesday’s crucial World Cup qualifier against France with more than a few nagging doubts.
Friday’s 1-1 draw with Group I’s bottom side Finland, coupled with a 3-1 win for France against Georgia, left Spain two points adrift of Didier Deschamps’ men in the section.
It may be a little soon to start panicking, but Spain can ill afford to lose at the Stade de France — do so and it will be five points off top spot with just one automatic berth at next year’s finals in Brazil up for grabs.
Indeed, some in Spain are even beginning to entertain the possibility that a defeat on Tuesday could lead to them missing out on a playoff place.
Such a scenario seems highly unlikely, but it is no exaggeration to say that things have not been this bad for Spain in a long time.
Having won three consecutive major international tournaments, Spain has become accustomed to winning, so failing to beat opponents as limited as Finland calls into question the methods that have worked so well in recent years.
Following last October’s 1-1 draw with France in Madrid, Spain has now gone two successive competitive home games without winning for the first time since the 1982 World Cup finals, a statistic that conjures memories of older, far less glorious times.
“Teams have found a way of playing against them,” observed France midfielder Blaise Matuidi. “Now it’s up to us to do the same.”