UPDATE1: Soccer: Japan coach confident despite pell-mell buildup for UAE clash
By Gus Fielding
SAITAMA, Japan, Aug. 31, Kyodo
Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic insists his players will be ready for a fight when they face United Arab Emirates on Thursday in the final round of Asian qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup, despite a comparative lack of preparation time for their Group B opener.
While the UAE have been preparing for two months, taking in camps in China and Spain with the domestic league in the off season, Japan started their camp on Sunday, while Hertha Berlin striker Genki Haraguchi and Sevilla midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake only arrived in Japan on Tuesday.
“They (UAE) have had two months to prepare and we have only had a couple of days but that doesn’t mean we are not fired up,” Halilhodzic told a press conference at Saitama Stadium on Wednesday.
“Haraguchi and Kiyotake have slept well and are rested but it is a difficult situation and we will have to see how they are tomorrow.”
“Lots of players that are playing in Europe have only just started their season and unfortunately not all of them started for their teams.”
“I had a hard time trying to come up with this squad. It is really hot in Japan now (in midseason) and the domestic-based players have fatigue and some players have taken knocks.”
“But it will be a full house in Saitama tomorrow and I am sure the players will be ready. It is not going to be easy but we have the quality and experience.”
Japan will be looking to avenge their 5-4 penalty shootout defeat to the UAE that followed a 1-1 extra-time draw in the quarterfinals of last year’s Asian Cup in Australia.
Under the current Asian qualifying format for the World Cup, no team that has lost their opening game in the final round has made it to the World Cup finals.
“I am aware of that. We have seen what happened against Singapore and know that anything can happen in football and that is why it is an interesting sport,” said Halilhodzic, referring to Japan’s shock 0-0 draw at home to Singapore in their opening match in the second round of qualifying.
Japan fly to Bangkok on Friday for their second Group B match against Thailand on Sept. 6.
“We want to win this game and the game against Thailand. We know that it is not going to be easy and that neither of these teams is going to give us any presents. We have to go and get wins.”
“UAE are a good team but we are well prepared off the pitch. We have watched video footage of them and analyzed them, so we know their strengths and shortcomings.”
In 15 previous meetings with the UAE, Japan have five wins, eight draws and two defeats.
“We know that it is a big match and a tough one for both teams and we hope we can get a positive result that will give us a boost for the upcoming matches in the qualification round,” said UAE coach Mahdi Ali, who noted that although this squad had time together during the preseason, many players did not take part because they were involved with their clubs in the Asian Champions League.
Ali also said the Asian Cup result would have no bearing on Thursday’s clash.
“We know that it was a very sad moment for Japan at the Asian Cup in 2015 and we know they will do their best to win the game and we will do too. At the end of the day it’s a game and what happened in the past is history.”
“There have been many changes since then — we don’t look to the past, only to the future and tomorrow we will not worry about revenge and all those other things, just focus on what we can do.”