SAITAMA – Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa is hoping to exorcise his demons and help Japan get off to a winning start in the final Asian round of 2018 World Cup qualifiers when it faces the United Arab Emirates in Group B in Saitama on Thursday.
UAE wrecked Japan’s bid for a second consecutive Asian Cup title with a 5-4 penalty shootout win after a 1-1 extra-time draw in the quarterfinals of last year’s tournament in Australia.
Kagawa missed his spot kick when he hit the post in the shootout and Ismail Ahmed kept his cool to rifle in the decisive penalty and set UAE up with a meeting with host Australia in the semis.
Kagawa was in tears after that match and admits the penalty miss still torments him.
“The (UAE) team was different then and so was our coach, the players and the situation, but I can still see the torment in my mind,” said Kagawa.
“That was then but this is now and we just have to prepare well to beat them this time.
“I’m not sure who is in their team this time and we will have to have a look at some video footage but they have some good players and under our coach will have to have a look at how we will take them on over the next few days.”
Japan plays ever-improving Thailand in Bangkok in its second game in Group B on Sept. 6.
“We cannot afford to lose these two games. The first one and second one we have to win,” said Kagawa. “It is a long road (to Russia) in the qualifiers and we want to make a good start.”
Sterling powers City
Manchester, England — Raheem Sterling offered further evidence of his improvement under Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola by scoring early and late goals in a 3-1 win over West Ham in the English Premier League on Sunday.
Fernandinho scored the other goal for City, which has won its first three matches of the campaign to be level on points with title rivals Manchester United and Chelsea.
A negative for Guardiola’s side could be a second-half incident in which star striker Sergio Aguero appeared to swing an elbow at marker Winston Reid as they competed for a high ball. The referee was nearby and didn’t give a foul, but if he says he didn’t see it, Aguero could face a retrospective ban that would rule him out of City’s next game — the Manchester derby.
Guardiola said he didn’t see the incident and gave short shrift to the possibility of a suspension for Aguero — but was much happier to talk about Sterling’s revival.
The winger, who cost City £49 million ($76 million) in the summer of 2015, lost his place in the team at the end of last season under former coach Manuel Pellegrini and endured a disappointing European Championship with England. He has looked a different player under Guardiola, rediscovering his confidence and dribbling ability.
He now has two goals to his name, the first coming in the seventh minute to finish off one of City’s many flowing team moves in a dominant first-half display by the hosts.
Fernandinho added a second goal in the 18th minute with a powerful header from Kevin de Bruyne’s free kick. But it needed Sterling’s injury-time goal — when he rounded the goalkeeper and scored from an acute angle — to see off a West Ham side that improved in the second half.
“Of course, we are pleased,” Guardiola said of Sterling. “He can play right, left, center. He is so dynamic. I am so happy he is playing good.”