SAITAMA – If Japan lays another egg in a World Cup qualifier against Cambodia, pin it on me, says Shinji Okazaki.
“If we don’t score again, I’m going to blame myself for it, 100 percent,” the Leicester City man said on the eve of Thursday’s game against world No. 180 Cambodia. “I play the same position for both club and country but with the national team, I have to shoulder more of the scoring responsibilities.
“The manager wants me to stay up front. He’s asked me to focus on trying to score goals, which is a little different from what I’m expected to do in the Premier League. So I’m taking it upon myself to provide the goals for us. I’ll demand the ball a lot tomorrow and hopefully I can get the job done.”
Japan’s second-round qualifying campaign for Russia 2018 opened to a nightmare in June, when the four-time Asian champions drew 0-0 at Saitama Stadium against Singapore, ranked 155th by FIFA.
Since then, Okazaki has taken his trade from the Bundesliga to the Premier League at Leicester, where he has been a hit so far for the Foxes under Claudio Ranieri.
After the performance against Singapore and the less-than-stellar East Asian Cup campaign last month, Okazaki said Vahid Halilhodzic’s men are in need of a big win over the Group E minnows in what will be their last home game of the year.
“We haven’t had much time together but we have to wash away the bad residue from the Singapore game,” Okazaki said. “Cambodia will be a similar type of team and we’ll probably have flashbacks of Singapore from time to time tomorrow.
“It was a game where had we scored one, we could have had a dozen. The tough thing about playing for the national side is a lot of us play different positions for our clubs and it’s not easy to click as a team. The first goal will be really important.”
The honeymoon ended rapidly over the summer for Halilhodzic, who could use a Cambodian hammering to get the public pressure off his back.
Halilhodzic said as long as Japan, which has a full-strength squad for this international week, stays confident, there will be no repeat of the Singapore game.
Japan leaves for Tehran on Friday where the team will face Afghanistan next week, followed by Syria away in Oman in October with two games in November at Singapore and Cambodia.
“We have to let people know that the Singapore game was an accident,” Halilhodzic said. “We produced some good moments against Singapore but we could not finish. As someone who used to score goals for a living myself, I feel like I understand what I need to tell the players.
“We want to mark our last game of the year at home with a beautiful victory. The first goal will be hard to come by but after we score once, I think the game will change dramatically.
“The most important thing is to win. I won’t tell my team to put 10 past them because it will just more pressure on them. What I emphasized was confidence. If we can, I won’t stop anyone from trying to take it past their entire team like Messi or Ronaldo.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.