On Wednesday night, Japan host Australia in a qualification match for the 2010 World Cup.
With Japan lying second in the group, two points behind the visitors, tensions and excitement are already running high. Goal.com Asia talked to Japan fan Aki Dalby and Australian Football writer Con Stamocostas to get their views on what should be a cracker.
Are you confident going in to this game?
Japan -Yes I am confident of the team's ability with their best players. It's especially good that Shunsuke Nakamura was allowed to return to Yokohama early. Australia have a perfect record this round but with exception of the game against Qatar, Australia have been far from convincing. In our game against Finland, while they were a second string side, Japan's finishing in particular was pleasing.
Australia -I feel confident and nervous. Japan will be tough at home. Australia has injury concerns with Brett Emerton ruled out with a bad knee injury for the next nine months, Harry Kewell will not be playing, and meanwhile Scott Chipperfield and David Carney are concerns. One has been injured and the other has not played much football.
Again there will be limited preparation for this game forcing the Socceroos to only have a couple of training session together. While Japan will be better prepared after beating Finland in a friendly 5-1.
The pressure in my opinion will all be on Japan. They are the home team so that will bring more pressure they need to win, a draw or a loss will not be a good result, they are two points behind Australia in the group and Australia is undefeated so far with three wins from three games.
The Japan coach has been getting stick form the press and fans recently. They lost to Bahrain in a recent Asian Cup qualifier, and don’t forget that they are still scared from the World Cup in Germany 2006, Tim Cahill and John Aloisi’s goals blowing Japan away in an unforgettable last eight mins of the first group game.
Regardless of WCQ points etc, Japan and Australia are becoming big rivals. Does that add extra spice to an important match?
Japan Certainly. Both sides are considered heavyweights of Asian football so whenever Japan play Australia or South Korea it means a lot more than if they played another country. Because both sets of fans believe they're the best.
Australia -Yes of course it does. Australia’s first ever win and first ever goals at a World Cup was against Japan. Japan beat Australia at the Asian Cup in 2007 at the quarter final stage and while the coaches deny there is rivalry the fans sure think there is and I’m sure the players do as well.
There have been some mind-games in the build-up, do you think these will have any affect and who has 'won' these games?
Japan - I don't think Takeshi Okada and Pim Verbeek let those comments affect them. Okada has had more than his share of flak from the Japanese press so he has had to learn to deal with it. Both are intelligent enough to let those comments just slide off them. I think if you consider the fact that Okada's under immense pressure, Verbeek would be the more relaxed man right now because if Australia lose it wouldn't be as devastating.
Australia - Well Japan has used some of their players to send a message to the Australian team and has said things like “they want to shut Australia up” there is a perception in Asia that the Australians are arrogant, in the way they think about Asian Football.
Yashito Endo has also come out and said” "I think it is unlikely that we will concede a goal unless they deliver a perfect cross and header,” This statement implies that Australia plays direct and scoring from crosses to Josh Kennedy and Tim Cahill are the only way Australia will score.
In my opinion Japan are correct to fear Australia from crosses and set pieces.
Pim Verbeek has also come out in the press slamming Japan’s decision to hold closed press conferences It doesn’t show a lot of confidence,” the Dutchman told reporters. You have been training together for five weeks and still need closed-door sessions.”
At the moment I suspect Australia is leading the mind games, Verbeek seems confident and assured while Japan seems nervous and intimidated.
What is the perception of the opposition in the local media/ among the fans?
Japan -The main thing the fans think about when referring to Australia is the physicality of the side, which of course is an advantage. With a strong midfield the fans feel that they're quite skilled, but not particularly creative, with the exception of Harry Kewell - but he might not be playing. Some of the comments by the Australian players in the past have given an impression that they're perhaps a bit over confident and many supporters think they need to be taken down a peg or two.
Australia -The mainstream media and most fans expect Australia to win almost every game they play and to play well doing it especially after making the second round at the last world cup.
However some sections of the football media and fans on forums and football websites recognise that Japan will be a formidable opponent not to be underestimated and not to be feared either.
Which player from the other team are you worried about?
Japan -If he plays then I certainly think the danger man is Harry Kewell ( Kewell has since been ruled out), for his eye for goal, creativity and even his aerial ability. Australia -Nakamura from Celtic his crosses, long range shots and free kicks are a danger, Endo is a quality player in midfield, and their tall defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka will be handful for Cahill and Kennedy if he plays.
Australia -Watch for Cahill to repeat his performance of the last World Cup, Scott McDonald if he plays will be searching for his first goal, he prefers to score against AC Milan and Manchester United rather that Qatar and Bahrain lest hope Japan is test that suits him. Kennedy has scored regularly for Australia and Jason Culina is all class in midfield. Mark Bresciano has also been playing regularly and scoring for Palermo.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of your team?
Japan - The biggest strength of the Japanese side is to retain possession and the quick passing game they play. Atsuto Uchida and Yuto Nagatomo will probably start in the side back positions and are very dangerous players to come down the wings at a very good pace and are not afraid to cut in and try to score. The main weakness is finishing. So many times Japan can control a game and create many chances, but the strikers let the side down sometimes with their finishing. Another weakness is defending at set pieces as in the past three games Japan have conceded goals from set pieces.
Australia -Weakness first: the limited preparation with players flying in a day or two before the match is a concern, the long term injury of Brett Emerton is a big loss, the injury concerns of Harry Kewell and Scott Chipperfield sees Australia weak on the left. All of a sudden our right and left flanks look weak.
Strengths: Australia’s midfield and attacking options are strong for this game. Crosses and set pieces for Australia are most defiantly a threat. Tim Cahill and Scott McDonald have been scoring for their clubs in Britain.
If Australia can control the midfield with Culina and Grella and use their passing game well they can frustrate Japan’s own passing game. Australia’s defence is strong and organised with Lucas Neil and Craig Moore at the back and Mark Schwarzer in goals give Australia a strong defence.
Also Australia biggest strength is the international experience in the team.
Most play in Europe and have played at the previous World Cup; they understand pressure they face it for their clubs week in week out.
Would you settle for a draw?
Japan -No. It's a home game and the squad of players are better than that. Anything less than a win is really unacceptable. I'm sure the Australians would be content with a draw away.
Australia- Yes it is an away game and a draw puts more pressure on Japan than Australia. So Japan fear two results, a draw and a loss.
What will the result be?
Japan - 2-0 to the Blue Samurai. Yoshito Okubo and Marcus Tulio to score.
Australia - I think Australia will win 3-1 replicating the result at the world cup in 2006.
Aki Dalby & Con Stamocostas