HANOI — Australia and Japan have been throwing the favorites tag back and forth like a hot potato ahead of their Asian Cup quarterfinal clash, and Shunsuke Nakamura is the latest to play down his team’s chances.
The Socceroos are keen to point out Japan are the defending champions and looking for a third straight title, while the Aussies are appearing at the tournament for the first time.
But Nakamura said Australia’s 3-1 victory over Japan at last year’s World Cup finals means it is Ivica Osim’s men who are the underdogs ahead of Saturday’s game.
“We’re going into the game as challengers,” said Nakamura. “We know it will be a very difficult game. But it’s a new game and a fresh set of circumstances.
“We don’t need to think too deeply about last time. None of us feel like we are the favorites at all.”
Nakamura scored a contentious first-half goal to put his team ahead against the Australians in their opening group game in Kaiserslautern last June, but Tim Cahill came off the bench to score twice and fellow sub John Aloisi fired in a third as a shell-shocked Japan fell apart in the last 10 minutes.
Celtic playmaker Nakamura said the players would have to go over a video of that match before Saturday to try to learn from their mistakes, even though it will make for some uncomfortable viewing.
“We’re going to have to watch that video again,” said Nakamura. “We defended way too deep at the World Cup.
“Sitting back and inviting them to attack wouldn’t be clever. They have too many dangerous players.
“We need to work as a team to break them down. That’s the only way to negate their size and power.”
Meanwhile, Aussie midfielder Mark Bresciano said Thursday that the “do-or-die” nature of the game should bring out the best in his teammates.
“We have got no other games to lean back on. It’s do or die and that also suits our character as a team,” said Bresciano. “I think that is when we perform at our best. We can step up on these big occasions.”
Italy-based midfielder Bresciano, who plays for Palermo, said he was well aware of the extra motivation the Japanese have as they look to avenge their World Cup defeat.
“I think it is a major factor coming into a game and wanting revenge,” said Bresciano. “I have been in both situations where it has worked for and against me so it’s just one of the ways you can motivate yourself.
“If I was a Japanese player I would be doing the same.”
Middlesbrough ‘keeper Mark Schwarzer said Australia needs to forget about their victory in Germany — as he has wiped from his memory Japan’s opening goal in that game, when Atsushi Yanagisawa impeded Schwarzer to allow Nakamura’s free-kick to loop into the net.
“It is 12 months ago and we’ve played a lot of games since then,” said Schwarzer. “There are various incidents throughout your career but you just have to move on and not linger on them. The referee said he made a mistake at halftime (for the goal).
“We know Saturday is going to be a difficult game and we know that we have to lift our standards from the way we played previously,” said Schwarzer.
“You progress or you go home. We just need to get a result to progress to the semifinals.”
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.