AL, AIN UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Reveling in his role with the national team, Hertha Berlin forward Genki Haraguchi will be looking to extend his scoring run to five straight World Cup qualifiers when Japan takes on the United Arab Emirates in final-round Group B on Thursday.
Haraguchi has netted only once for his Bundesliga side so far this season, but in November he became the first Japan player to score in four consecutive final-round qualifiers in a 2-1 win at home to Group B leaders Saudi Arabia.
“I wouldn’t say that I am in great form because there have been a lot of matches that have not gone well with Hertha but I really like my role with the national team,” said Haraguchi.
“Playing close to goal means there are a lot of scoring opportunities. A goal would be good at any time in the game. But as long as we win and get the three points I don’t care who scores. If I can just carry out my role and help the team win, then that will do for me.”
Another player who would love to hit the target is Stuttgart striker Takuma Asano, who had a goal controversially ruled out the last time Japan met the UAE in a shock 2-1 home defeat in their first qualifier in the final round in September.
With Japan trailing 2-1, substitute 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.
“The last game was massively disappointing so I want to get payback. This match provides an opportunity to rid myself of that frustration,” said Asano.
“A goal is what I want. I haven’t delivered results at all with my club, even though I have had chances. Results are everything in this business. It is not happening for me but that is just making me all the more determined.”