TASHKENT – Japan coach Takeshi Okada is confident his players can accomplish their mission of reaching the 2010 World Cup finals with two qualifiers to spare with victory in Saturday’s decisive clash in Uzbekistan.
Victory for the three-time Asian champions here would see them become the first country to qualify for the finals, excepting hosts South Africa, booking a fourth consecutive appearance at soccer’s showcase event after debuting under Okada at the 1998 finals in France.
Okada has no injury concerns and the “Blue Samurai” head into the match with confidence sky-high after back-to-back 4-0 wins over Chile and Belgium at last week’s Kirin Cup.
“We don’t have any players suffering from illness, all our injured players have returned to fitness and we have done everything we can to prepare,” Okada told a news conference on the eve of the Group A clash.
“If we are fully focused on playing our brand of soccer, then I believe that we will get the right result. However, we have achieved nothing yet and you can never rule out an upset.”
Australia leads Group A in the final round of Asian qualifying with 13 points, two points ahead of Japan. Bahrain is in third place with seven points, while Uzbekistan and Qatar have four points each.
Australia can secure back-to-back appearances at the World Cup with a win or draw against Qatar in Doha.
Uzbekistan still has the third-place playoff spot to play for but must beat Japan to keep its slim qualifying hopes alive.
The Central Asians toughed out a 1-1 draw in their last qualifier against Japan in Saitama last October, Keiji Tamada scoring a crucial equalizer after Maksim Shatskikh had punished sloppy defending by Marcus Tulio Tanaka to give the Uzbeks a 27th-minute lead.
“I think the press wanted me to quit after that game . . . that’s probably what they were saying,” said Okada with a wry smile when asked by local reporters about the Japanese media’s verdict on the previous meeting between the two teams.
“There are loads of Japanese reporters here so please go and ask them about that.”
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