SAITAMA – Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic has warned his players not to “fall into traps” laid by Syria on Tuesday night and called for cool heads in the final match of the second round of Asian qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
“This is the last match of the group and for us it will be a cup final,” Halilhodzic told a press conference at Saitama Stadium on Monday. “It is a game between the strongest teams in the group and a final we have to win.
“It is not going to be an easy game against a team that can score goals, and we have to have a fire in our bellies and make sure we don’t fall into their traps. They will try and break up our rhythm, provoke us by faking fouls and play acting, and I just hope the referee is ready for that. We can’t let that sort of thing frustrate us and I have told the players they need to be in control.”
“We had a fantastic training session yesterday and are ready for tomorrow’s match,” added the Franco-Bosnian.
Japan’s 5-0 win over Afghanistan and results in other groups on Thursday mean Halilhodzic’s side is already assured of a place in the final round beginning in September.
Japan, which has yet to concede in the second round and whipped Syria 3-0 in neutral Oman in October, tops Group E with 19 points to Syria’s 18, meaning a draw will be enough to finish top.
“First of all we have to win and finish first in the group. That is our main objective and I want us to keep a clean sheet,” Halilhodzic said.
“It is not going to be easy to win our last two games at home. Syria have scored more goals than we have, and we have to respect them. But if the players can play like they did in training yesterday then I can be optimistic.”
Japan captain Makoto Hasebe said, “Syria have got a good chance of qualifying, but with us having already qualified, the most important thing is to have the right intensity.”
Syria coach Fajer Ebrahim has only brought a squad of 17 players to Japan but said he was confident his team would also make it to the final round and was looking forward to a test against a Japan squad packed with European-based players.
“Now Japan have already qualified and Syria have more than 95 percent qualified so I think tomorrow’s game will be interesting, because we will be playing without pressure. I think that is very important,” said Ebrahim.
“Maybe other teams need miracles (to qualify). If four teams (in contention from other groups) win and we lose then we will be out but I think this will be very difficult.
“Most of the Japanese players play outside (Japan) with big teams and as a team they are very strong, but we are prepared for that. We have good motivation to play against good players.”