Football: Japan boss insists they're still in World Cup fight but beating Australia a must

Manager Hajime Moriyasu said Japan are not out of the 2022 World Cup qualification picture yet. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan are not out of the 2022 World Cup qualification picture yet, manager Hajime Moriyasu said on Monday (Oct 11), as the embattled Asian giants prepared to host Australia in a crunch match.

From their opening three games in Asian qualifying Group B, Japan have taken only three points, leaving them in real danger of missing the World Cup for the first time since 1994.

Moriyasu's side slumped to a 1-0 home defeat against Oman before beating China 1-0 away, then lost 1-0 to Saudi Arabia in a dismal performance last Thursday in Jeddah.

Japan have their backs to the wall going into Tuesday's game in Saitama against an Australian side who last week became the first team to win 11 straight games in the same World Cup qualifying campaign.

"Of course, we're aware we're in a difficult situation," said Moriyasu, who Japanese media have speculated could lose his job with anything less than a win.

"But we knew before the qualifiers that it would be a tough campaign, and we're still in with a chance. We'll go into tomorrow's game fighting for a place at the World Cup."

Moriyasu admitted that his team have struggled to get up to speed physically, and there was "a gap between what we've wanted to do and what we've been capable of doing".

Japan would have to "read the game and play smart" against Australia, said Moriyasu, who played alongside Socceroos manager Graham Arnold with Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the J-League.

Australia top Group B on goal difference ahead of the Saudis, with Japan currently out of the automatic qualification spots for Qatar 2022 in third place. Oman and China also have three points while Vietnam have lost all three games.

"We'll look at their strong and weak points and see how we can match up against them," said Moriyasu.

"They're a strong physical team, and on top of that they've got good technique."

Australia have racked up three wins out of three despite being forced to play their home games on the road due to coronavirus restrictions.

Arnold said the Socceroos will not be tempted to play for a draw in Saitama, and he expects "a great performance" from his team.

"What we can do is focus on ourselves and make sure that our players are mentally and physically ready for the game tomorrow night," he said.

"Our focus is more on ourselves. I expect a great game tomorrow night."

Arnold also refused to rule Japan out of the qualification picture.

"There are 10 games, so we're only three games into it at the moment," he said.

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