SAITAMA – Towering striker Josh Kennedy said Sunday he is relishing the prospect of a battle with former Nagoya Grampus teammate Maya Yoshida when Australia goes toe to toe with Japan in Tuesday’s high-stakes World Cup qualifier in Saitama.
Kennedy has not played for Australia since 2011 due to a long-standing back problem. But the 30-year-old is confident he will get the nod to start up front against Yoshida, who he believes has gone from strength to strength since leaving Grampus to join Southampton via a spell with VVV Venlo in the Netherlands.
“It should be good. He (Yoshida) normally comes in the offseason to Nagoya and trains a bit and says hello. It will be good to catch up with him and I’m looking forward to it,” said Kennedy, once described by Grampus boss Dragan Stojkovic as the “king of the air.”
“He has made massive progress in his career and I am really happy that he has done well.”
Yoshida, who is nursing a groin strain initially sustained in the final stretch of the Premier League season, has singled out Kennedy as the Socceroos’ biggest threat.
Kennedy joked, “He probably remembers the training days (at Nagoya) where I used to score a few goals against him. It will be good to score against Maya. He has definitely developed a lot and it should be a good battle.”
Kennedy is preparing for his first Socceroos appearance since facing Thailand 19 months ago. He is scoring goals again and says he feels he is getting back to his imposing best.
“My fitness is quite good. I have played the last seven or eight games for Grampus and played all 90 minutes, so my fitness levels are quite good and back where they should be. Going into the game I am feeling quite confident.
“I have put in good effort and trained well, put my hand up and told the coach (Holger Osieck) I want to start. But at the end of the day it is up to him and how he wants to play.”
Runaway Group B leader Japan (13) needs only a draw to qualify for its fifth World Cup finals in a row, but it was stunned 2-1 away to Jordan in March and its preparations for the Australia game were dented with a 2-0 defeat in a warmup with Bulgaria in Toyota on Thursday.
Third-placed Australia trails Jordan (7) by a point but has a game in hand on the top two.
Australia will likely use its physical advantage to overpower the Japanese, but Kennedy reckons it is the mental strength of the Socceroos that gives them the upper hand.
“I think mentally with all of us we will fight down to the last second of the game, and our team spirit (is an advantage). Team spirit goes right through Australian sports teams. We always try our best for one another, and I think that is what we are definitely going to capitalize on.”