SAITAMA – Japan midfielder Keisuke Honda is hoping he gets the chance to produce more heroics against Australia when the Samurai Blue take on the Socceroos in Thursday’s crucial World Cup qualifier at Saitama Stadium.
The 31-year-old Honda secured Japan’s berth at the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil when he swept home a 91st-minute penalty against Australia in a 1-1 draw at the same stadium four years ago, after Tommy Oar’s lucky goal had pushed the visitors in front.
With the emergence of younger players like Belgian-based attacker Yuya Kubo, Honda no longer commands a regular place in the starting lineup.
But with a win over Australia guaranteeing qualification for next year’s finals in Russia, the Pachuca midfielder is hoping he gets the nod on Thursday so he can step up for Japan once again.
Speaking to reporters after Monday’s training session, Honda, who recently scored for his new Mexican team on his debut after struggling with an injury to his right calf, said “My intention is to be in the starting 11 but obviously that is down to the coach to make a decision.
“I think that he (Japan coach Vahid Halihodzic) has said I am not in top condition and wants to take a look at what I can do in practice, and unless I do well in training and show him then I won’t be standing on the pitch (on Thursday).
“I want to get myself prepared to be on the pitch. I have the right intensity. Obviously the situation is different to what it was four years ago but the essence is the same.
“I feel expectations from the fans and I myself and the rest of the team want to respond and are preparing to do that. There are no mind games. It’s not about our opponents. We just have to be bold and get the job done,” he added.
Japan leads Group B with 17 points with two games left but is only a point ahead of Saudi Arabia and the third-place Australians.
Japan has never beaten Australia in a final-round qualifier, but Honda believes the Asian champions have weaknesses to exploit.
“There is no doubt that they (Australia) are strong opponents. They have shown that in the results that have got in the past two years,” said Honda.
“But there are no perfect teams so I have an image in my mind of how we should approach the game, although I am not going to talk about that here.”