• Kyodo

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Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic admitted Saturday that injuries to striker Yuya Osako and midfielder Keisuke Honda are causing him concern ahead of the team’s upcoming World Cup qualifier at home against Australia.

The status of Cologne forward Osako appears to be in major doubt for the Aug. 31 qualifier against the Socceroos at Saitama Stadium with an ankle problem, while Honda is carrying an unspecified injury that has delayed his Mexican Liga MX debut with new club Pachuca.

Speaking after returning to Japan from a vacation, Halilhodzic said, “We are in a difficult situation. We have a lot of injured players and it is worrying me.”

Osako was hurt on Monday in a practice game against Italian Serie A club Bologna and an examination the following day revealed he had suffered ligament damage in his right ankle and could be sidelined for several weeks.

Cologne said Osako could miss both the Australia game and Japan’s final qualifier away to Saudi Arabia on Sept. 5.

Pachuca manager Diego Alonso said on July 23 that Honda, who joined the club after his contract with AC Milan expired at the end of June, has complained of soreness in his muscles and will need to receive treatment, although details about the injury were not disclosed.

Japan leads Group B in the final round of qualifiers with 17 points, one ahead of Saudi Arabia and third-place Australia. Only the top two teams in the group qualify directly for Russia.

Japan can punch its World Cup ticket with one win from its final two games.

A third-place finish would send Japan into a two-leg playoff in October against the team that finishes third in Group A.

The winner over two legs then goes into another playoff in November against the fourth-placed team from the CONCACAF North, Central America and Caribbean region.

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