DOHA – Japan defender Maya Yoshida has called for cool heads as the Asian champions prepared to leave Sunday for a high-stakes World Cup qualifier against Jordan in Amman.
Wary of what he describes as whistle-happy Asian referees, the Southampton center back has admitted he may have to “tone it down” in Amman, where victory for Japan on Tuesday would see it become the first team to qualify and join hosts Brazil in next year’s finals.
“We have to have cool heads and I myself will need to tone it down and avoid making reckless challenges,” said Yoshida, one of the few bright spots in Friday’s unconvincing 2-1 win over Canada.
“You need to be physical in the Premier League and I always have to change my mindset before I join the national team,” the 24-year-old London Olympic captain said.
“Obviously the kind of play that is expected of me from the national team is different and I have to adjust and be aware of the need to make the right decisions.”
Those words will not be lost on captain Makoto Hasebe. Japan was forced to withstand a late onslaught when it qualified for the 2010 World Cup with a 1-0 win away to Uzbekistan, after Hasebe was sent off for elbowing Server Djeparov.
Then-Japan coach Takeshi Okada was banished to the stands moments later, and that is the sort of scenario that Alberto Zaccheroni’s men will certainly want to avoid this time around.
“That was one of the three worst decisions I have ever experienced in my career,” said Hasebe. “But this sort of thing can happen in World Cup qualifiers and I have learned from that experience.”
Yoshida admits it is not always easy readjusting from the rough-and-tumble of the Premier League, where he claims English referees are more inclined to let the game flow than their Asian counterparts.
“The standard of refereeing in Asia is different to England. In the Premier League the refs don’t blow up so easily for fouls,” he said.
Yoshida is hoping Japan can keep a clean sheet in Amman, something the Blue Samurai have only managed once so far in five away games in the qualifying series, when they won 4-0 away to Tajikistan in the third round.
“We haven’t managed many clean sheets away from home and that is something we will definitely be looking to do this time,” he said.
Japan thrashed Jordan 6-0 at home in Saitama in June, but Yoshida insists his teammates must take nothing for granted on Tuesday.
“Whenever we play teams in the Middle East, the opponents, the refereeing and the climate all combine to make things difficult for us. We can’t have that home win on our minds and have to take the approach that we are facing a completely new team,” said Yoshida.
“We won’t have any peace of mind until we have qualified. We want to do that as quickly as once we are through, it will give us the chance then to try new things in the buildup.”
A draw would be enough for Japan to qualify for their its World Cup finals in a row, provided an earlier kickoff between Australia and Oman also finishes all square.