Japan ‘keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi is relishing the prospect of a possible quarterfinal showdown with Australia at the Asian Cup next month and says his teammates are “burning” to avenge the defeat in their opening match at last summer’s World Cup.
Australia, which will be making its debut at the continental championship after joining the Asian Football Confederation last year, went on a late three-goal rampage to sentence Japan to a 3-1 defeat in Kaiserslautern.
Japan never recovered and went on to draw 0-0 with Croatia before making a first-round exit on the back of a 4-1 hiding by Brazil. Australia reached the second round but was sunk by a controversial late penalty in a 1-0 loss to eventual winner Italy.
“We definitely want Australia again. We are burning for revenge and that would be a very special game for us,” Kawaguchi said recently. “This might be the Asian Cup but just playing Australia has a special significance all of its own.”
The Japanese would meet Australia in the last eight if they win Group B and the Socceroos finish second in Group A, or vice versa. Japan plays cohost Vietnam, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates in the first round while Australia has been drawn against Iraq, Oman and Thailand.
One of the few players to emerge with any credit in Germany last summer, Kawaguchi played a major role in helping Japan win the last two Asian Cups in Lebanon in 2000 and China three years ago.
The former Portsmouth custodian was voted Man of the Match in the 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in the 2000 final and stopped two spot kicks in a nerve-jangling penalty shootout win over Jordan in the 2004 quarterfinals.
“The Asian Cup is an important tournament for the team but especially for me personally. In the previous two tournaments I was in really good form and hopefully with the right preparation that will be the case this time around,” said Kawaguchi.
Japan is among the favorites to lift the title at the July 7-29 tournament being jointly hosted by Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia.
However, Kawaguchi has warned against underestimating Japan’s first-round opponents and picked out 2006 Asian Games winner Qatar as a potential stumbling block.
“We are the top team, so players on the other teams will be fired up to beat us. Qatar in particular look a good team. Last time (in China) we were drawn with difficult opponents in Iran and Oman in the group stage and there won’t be any easy games this time either,” Kawaguchi said.
Japan begins its bid for a third Asian crown against Qatar in Hanoi on July 9.
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