Having secured Japan’s passage into the final qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, coach Takeshi Okada says national and personal pride is now at stake as he turned his attention to this week’s meeting with Group 2 leader Bahrain.
Japan beat winless Thailand 3-0 and progressed to the last qualifying stage for the World Cup after Bahrain drew 1-1 with Oman in Asian third-round matches on Saturday.
Bahrain got the point they needed to advance and the result meant Japan also qualified as only a victory would have kept Oman’s hopes of progressing alive.
Japan and Bahrain meet in Saitama on Sunday in the last round of games with Group 2 bragging rights at stake.
Okada was left shell-shocked after Japan suffered a 1-0 defeat to Bahrain in Manama in March and is determined to erase that painful memory by leading his side to victory.
“I won’t forget the disappointment I felt (at that defeat) for the rest of my life,” said Okada after returning to Japan from Thailand on Sunday.
“My personal pride and the pride of Japanese soccer will be on the line (against Bahrain).”
Japan closed the gap on Bahrain to one point and will be confident of taking the group after cruising past Thailand in energy-sapping heat in Bangkok.
First-half headers from Marcus Tulio Tanaka and Yuji Nakazawa and a late strike from substitute Kengo Nakamura did the damage at Rajamangala Stadium.
“We played the kind of game we needed to get a result,” said Okada. “We maybe overdid it in the first half and that’s why we tired in the second half. But the players did well in difficult conditions.”
“I always thought we would qualify if we beat Thailand and I think we have become a good team,” said Okada.
Japan dominated from the start and made the breakthrough on 23 minutes following a short corner, Yasuhito Endo exchanging passes with Shunsuke Nakamura before picking out Tulio to head in at the far post.
Endo nearly got on the scoresheet himself two minutes later with a free kick that crashed off the crossbar before the Gamba Osaka man set up the second when his corner was powered home by Nakazawa six minutes before the break.
Thailand enjoyed sporadic spells of pressure in the second half as Japan took its foot off the pedal, although Seigo Narazaki was only seriously called upon once when he tipped over a fierce drive from Datsakorn Thonglao.
Kengo Nakamura, on for namesake Shunsuke, lashed home to wrap up the win in the late stages.