• Kyodo


Japan attacker Keisuke Honda has ordered his teammates to stand up and be counted when they face Thailand in Bangkok on Tuesday in a crunch final-round qualifier for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Japan suffered a shock 2-1 defeat in its Group B opener at home against the United Arab Emirates on Thursday in Saitama. Anything less than a win over the unfancied Thais would leave Vahid Halilhodzic’s men with a tough task to automatically qualify from a group which also includes Asian champion Australia, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

The outspoken bleach-blond midfielder was highly critical of the team after the defeat to UAE and accused the players of lacking guts.

“A surprising number of players watch and read the news so they know what I say. I don’t think they are going to change straight away, but maybe become aware of the fact that they have to make more of an effort,” Honda told reporters Saturday after Japan’s first training session since arriving in Bangkok.

“I want to give them the opportunity to change their mindset. I have to pull the team forward when it needs pulling, and it’s not just me. There are a number of experienced players on this team that feel the same way.

“The young players can’t expect others to lead the team and I am sure they are starting to understand that. Everyone has to stand up and be counted. That is what the Japan national team is all about.”

Despite the opening defeat against the Emiratis, Honda insists the team can handle the pressure of Tuesday’s game against Thailand.

“We have to go all out with the intention of winning all the rest of our games,” he said. “We have to go into the next game with confidence and with a positive mindset.

“There is pressure right from the start (of the qualifiers) but we have experienced even higher-pressure situations than this before and we have to face it head-on.”

Thailand pushed Saudi Arabia all the way in its away match on Thursday before being sunk by a late penalty in a 1-0 defeat in Riyadh.

Honda said he watched that match and had his own ideas on how to cope with the Southeast Asians.

“I have an image in my head of how to deal with Thailand, how to win possession off them and break them down,” he said. “I have two or three plans in my mind in attack and defense.”

Japan trained for about 90 minutes in stamina-sapping heat at National Stadium after being given a police escort to the ground, where a throng of media and local Japanese fans were awaiting their arrival.

AFC checks passports

Kuala Lumpur AP

Asian soccer’s governing body says it is investigating players using fake passports to comply with eligibility rules in national team and club competitions.

The Asian Football Confederation has suspended Brazilian forward Wanderley for 60 days “pending a full investigation into his nationality status.” Its disciplinary committee is judging the case.

In an Asian Champions League quarterfinal first-leg match last week, Wanderley scored twice to help Al Nasr of the United Arab Emirates beat El Jaish of Qatar 3-0.

The AFC says it acted after authorities in Indonesia said Wanderley’s Indonesian passport “was a forged or falsified document.”

Al Nasr faces sanctions before the return match in Dubai on Sept. 14.

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