JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA – Japan manager Vahid Halilhodzic has urged his players to wrap up their World Cup qualifying campaign on a winning note as the team arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday ahead of its final Group B match.
Japan has already booked its ticket to next year’s finals in Russia, securing the top spot in the group thanks to Tuesday’s 2-0 win over reigning Asian champion Australia at Saitama Stadium.
But speaking after the team touched down amid sweltering heat in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah, Halilhodzic said he was not about to let up just yet.
“We beat Australia so there is no tiredness,” Halilhodzic said. “I want to taste victory even in our final match. Getting a win is what I want the players to do.”
With qualification already in the bag, Halilhodzic could be tempted to make wholesale changes to the side that beat the Australians, courtesy of goals in each half from Takuma Asano and Yosuke Ideguchi.
Two of Japan’s most experienced players have pulled out of the squad for Tuesday’s game against the Saudis, who along with Australia are still within a shout of grabbing the second automatic qualification spot from the group. Saudi Arabia is ahead of Australia on goal difference of plus two.
Captain Makoto Hasebe made his Japan comeback by putting in a 90-minute shift against Australia, but the Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder has withdrawn to rest the right knee he had surgery on in March.
Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa, citing concerns over the left shoulder he dislocated in June, has also not made the trip to Saudi Arabia. Kagawa never left the bench against the Socceroos.
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