SAITAMA – Southampton defender Maya Yoshida says Japan must treat the United Arab Emirates “like Brazil” in its final-round World Cup qualifier in Saitama on Thursday and has warned the Blue Samurai that they cannot afford a repeat of the start they made against UAE in their quarterfinal defeat at last year’s Asian Cup in Australia.
“Every single game (in qualifying) is a battle but getting off to a winning start is the most important thing,” said Yoshida. “We have to prepare to put everything out there in the first match. As our coach always tells us, we have to battle like we are playing Brazil.”
Japan will be looking to avenge a 5-4 penalty shootout defeat at the Asian Cup which followed a 1-1 draw after extra time in Sydney.
Japan fell behind to an early strike from Ali Mabkhout in that match, but after a spell of intense second-half pressure, substitute Gaku Shibasaki smashed home the equalizer in the 81st minute.
Thirty minutes of extra time failed to decide the match and Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa both missed their spot kicks in the shootout before Ismail Ahmed kept his cool to rifle in the decisive kick and send UAE into the semifinals.
“I can still remember what a poor start we made in that match and can still picture in my mind how many chances we allowed UAE to create,” said Yoshida.
“Making a good start is the most basic of basics in soccer. We can’t make the same mistakes and we have to be ready for whatever our opponents throw at us.”
Leicester City striker Shinji Okazaki says a win against the UAE will bring the confidence he believes the team is missing and is determined to put his name on the scoresheet.
“There is no point in me playing unless I score,” said Okazaki. “I think the thing this team needs more than anything else is confidence. To get that confidence we have to win and to win the match we need goals. I am determined to score and hopefully pull the team forward.”