Here come the Blue Samurai

Here come the Blue Samurai

By Alan Gibson

It’s early in the group stage, but, this is the big one! Certainly for Australia, after a disappointing 0-0 draw with Oman to open their qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014.

Keisuke Honda trains ahead of tonight’s game

Nothing less than a win will be expected by the home fans on Tuesday night in Brisbane, which would see Australia up to four points from two games - two points behind Japan, with a game in hand. A draw would keep Japan clear at the top and add a little more pressure to the Socceroos to make sure they make the most of their games before meeting Japan again.

Of course, with Japan riding the crest of a wave - nine goals scored, none conceded in their two games so far - a win for Japan is far from out of the questions and, in fact, most Japanese players interviewed after the 6-0 victory over Jordan were, understandably, very confident of coming away with maximum points. That would surely put Japan in the driving seat but, barring an unlikely run of poor results, Australia - even if they do lose this match - must surely be favourites to join Japan in qualifying from this group.

Japan will be inspired by a midfield that is unmatched in the Asian region. The experience of Yasuhito Endo - closing in on a record number of caps for the national team - the bite of captain Makoto Hasebe, and the youthful confidence - by no means misplaced, of course - of Manchester United’s new acquisition, Shinji Kagawa, and a roaring fit-again Keisuke Honda - surely playing himself a move to a bigger club in Europe - will be more than a match for any team, let alone the aging - and probably slightly jet-lagged Australian team.

Throw in Nurnberg’s new signing Hiroshi Kiyotake and Arsenal (for now, at least) winger Ryo Miyaichi in reserve and there’s plenty for the Australian defence to worry about!

One disappointment for Japan - a ray of hope for Australia perhaps - is the absence of central defender Maya Yoshida. The Holland-based centre back would surely have given the likes of Tim Cahill and Josh Kennedy a run for their Aussie dollar and, while the likes of Inoha and Konno are more than capable of covering his absence, his height - as, no doubt Japanese commentators will mention at every opportunity - will be missed (perhaps Japan coach, Alberto “Zac” Zaccheroni should play 194cm Mike Havenaar at the back!!).

The likely deputy will be Yokohama F. Marinos stalwart Yuzo Kurihara, who has been prone to the occasional lapse for the national team - a ray of hope for the Socceroos, perhaps.

Australia will, of course, be looking for revenge for the Asian Cup Final defeat of January 2011, when a superb volley from Tadanari Lee in extra time was all that separated the teams and, over the years it’s been pretty even between these two teams, so perhaps the home team will be thinking it’s their turn this time around! Since joining the AFC, Australia have met Japan five times, with two wins apiece and a draw to show for their efforts.

But it is probably a game before the AFC entry of the Aussies - in Kaiserslautern, Germany, World Cup 2006 - that the Japanese remember the most, when Australia overturned a 1-0 deficit to beat Japan 3-1.

So, more history in the making on Tuesday night?!

Alan Gibson is Editor of JSoccer Magazine. Issue 4 is in stores (in Japan) on Friday, June 16th - price 980 yen - and is available worldwide by airmail (1380 yen) or by email on PDF (980 yen).

If you are a first-time reader of the magaxine mention AsianFootballFeast speical offer when you mail [email protected] and you can get all three previous issues on PDF FREE of charge, when you buy Issue 4! Just drop the name of AsianFootballFeast!




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