SAITAMA – Australia midfielder Tim Cahill has warned Japan to expect a bruising physical encounter in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier if the Socceroos find themselves needing a goal to keep their hopes of reaching Brazil alive.
Australia heads into the match at Saitama Stadium out of the automatic Group B qualifying positions with a game in hand on the top two teams, trailing leader Japan by seven points and second-place Jordan by one.
Cahill is aware that defeat would represent a major blow for Australia’s ambitions of reaching a third-straight World Cup next summer, but the New York Red Bulls man says his team is prepared to do whatever it takes to leave Japan with at least a point in the bag.
“I think sometimes it’s unfair to say that we just go to the air a lot because we do play a lot of football, but I think when you go down in a game and you are against the 8-ball, you’ve got no choice but to swing it in the box,” Cahill said at Australia’s Saitama training base on Saturday.
“I think that’s happened, unfortunately, that we’ve gone behind on too many occasions and we’ve had to resort to forcing it. Hopefully against Japan it won’t be like that, but so long as we keep ourselves in the game as long as possible, it’s going to be an exciting game.”
Japan needs just a point to book its place at a fifth-successive World Cup after making a flying start to the qualifying campaign, but progress for Australia has been nowhere near as smooth.
The Socceroos had to wait until their fourth match before picking up their first and so-far only win of the final round, and Cahill knows they will have to make improvements on Tuesday night.
“It’s a massive game against Japan, but if you are going to qualify for the World Cup then you have to beat the best, and at the moment they are the best,” said the 33-year-old former Everton stalwart.
“I think the key is us just worrying about us. We already know their strengths, we already know their top players, we know that they want to try to rile us and be in their faces and they’ll be high-pressing to win the ball back as soon as possible. Obviously they’re sitting top of the table and they don’t need to chase the game, so it’s all about us.”
Japan lost 2-0 to Bulgaria in a friendly warmup on Thursday, with manager Alberto Zaccheroni fielding an experimental formation missing several regulars including talisman Keisuke Honda.
The 26-year-old will be available to face Australia after missing Thursday’s friendly to play in the Russian Cup final with CSKA Moscow on Saturday, but Socceroos midfielder Alex Brosque expects him to make his presence felt when he joins the team on Monday.
“Honda brings so much to their team,” said Brosque, who spent almost two years with Shimizu S-Pulse before leaving last season. “You can definitely see it when he’s there and when he’s not there, the difference he makes, his presence and personality.
“His football speaks for itself, but I think it’s those other things, his personality on the field — just demanding the ball and exactly how good he is when he gets it. He’s a very big player for them, but again they’ve got so many good players across the park so it’s hard to concentrate on just the one.”
Japan and Australia drew 1-1 in Brisbane earlier in the qualification campaign, marking the latest installment of a matchup that has grown into something of a rivalry over the past seven years. Cahill was on target twice as Australia came from behind in the dying stages to secure a 3-1 win at the 2006 World Cup, only for Japan to avenge that defeat with victory in the Asian Cup the following year and again in the 2011 final.
“For me I have had a great relationship with the Japanese fans,” said Cahill. “I’m playing with a Japanese player (Kosuke Kimura) now at New York Red Bulls.
“For me it’s one of those rivalries where it’s always a pleasure to come to Japan and play, and also to host them in Australia. Japan are sitting above us in the table and pipped us at the post in the Asian Cup, but for us it’s about trying to slowly grow to being back to where we were before.”