Soccer / World Cup

Halilhodzic looking for team leaders to fill Hasebe gap against UAE

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic is confident his players can overcome the loss of captain Makoto Hasebe for Thursday’s vital World Cup qualifier away to the United Arab Emirates.

But the Franco-Bosnian coach refused to reveal who would take the captain’s armband when his side goes in search of revenge for its controversial 2-1 loss to the UAE at home in its opening match in the final round in September.

Hasebe pulled out of the squad on Monday and flew back to Japan to undergo surgery on his right knee after injuring it while playing with his German club, Eintracht Frankfurt.

“Not having Hasebe is a big handicap for us but all of his teammates will do everything to cover his absence and we have to have ambition and hope to do that,” Halilhodzic told a press conference on the eve of the Group B clash at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium.

“There are a number of candidates (to be captain). It could be Maya (Yoshida) or (Masato) Morishige, or Yuto (Nagatomo). There are a few possibilities and I will decide tonight.

“It’s a very important role to discuss with the players. For me it will not be only one captain. Only one player will wear the armband, but I will need three captains on the field,” he said.

Halilhodzic is hoping his side enjoys better luck than it did in Saitama in September, when substitute Takuma Asano had a legitimate goal ruled out that would have leveled the match at 2-2.

Asano scored what television replays confirmed to be a perfectly legitimate goal when he struck a headed knock-down from Keisuke Honda in Saitama.

Despite the best efforts of UAE goalkeeper Khalid Eisa to claw the ball out, Asano’s shot had already crossed the line, but Qatari referee Abdulrahman Al Jassim waved play on, prompting the Japan Football Association to lodge an official complaint after the match.

Asked how Japan could avoid a repeat of September’s defeat, he said: “By avoiding a bad referee.”

“I don’t like to speak so much about referees,” he said. “We are focused on playing this great UAE team but I hope that we have a fair referee that this qualifier deserves.”

Japan is level on 10 points from five games with Saudi Arabia, which tops the group on goal difference. Third-place Australia and fourth-place UAE both have nine points, with Iraq on three and bottom club Thailand on one. Two teams automatically qualify from the group for next year’s finals in Russia.

UAE coach Mahdi Ali will be without a number of players owing to injury and suspension and is sweating on the fitness of striker and 2015 Asia player of the year Ahmed Khalil, who scored both of his team’s goals in Saitama.

“We are missing many players but we are used to this situation and have been in this situation many times. It is part of football,” said Ali. “We should not think about the injuries but think about how we have to play this match.

“We will try our best and work hard to get a positive result from this game. With Ahmed Khalil, he has a calf problem but today we will decide whether he will play the game or not.

“In football many things can happen so we have to be prepared for that. We are only thinking about how to do our best regardless of what condition we are in at the moment. I hope thinking about a positive thing, we bring good emotions and motivation for us.”

Ali stressed that the win in Saitama was history.

“What happened in the previous game is in the past,” he said. “Now we are in a good position in the table and this gives us a lot of motivation to fight for our chances to qualify. We are playing at home and we will work hard to do our best in this game.”