Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu told his players to finish the job and clinch qualification for the World Cup after naming his squad Wednesday for next week’s clash against Australia.
Japan can book their place at a seventh straight World Cup by beating the Socceroos in Sydney on March 24, having recovered from a dreadful start to the qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022.
The four-time Asian champions lost two of their opening three fixtures, but have won all five games since, and Moriyasu believes his team has been forged into a battle-hardened unit.
Moriyasu, who welcomes captain Maya Yoshida back but must do without injured Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu, said: “We’ve come this far looking at every game as a must-win game.
“We’ve been trying to win each one as it comes and we’re not about to forget that now. We’ve been aggressive in trying to win games and even though this one will be tough, we’ve overcome pressure to get here.”
Veteran Yoshida, the Sampdoria centre-back, returns after missing qualifiers against China and Saudi Arabia earlier this year through injury.
There are also places in the squad for Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino, Mallorca’s Takefusa Kubo and Celtic pair Daizen Maeda and Reo Hatate.
Two teams qualify automatically from Group B, with the third-place team dropping into a playoff.
Japan currently sit one point behind leaders Saudi Arabia and three ahead of Australia with two games each remaining.
Japan are home to bottom side Vietnam in their final fixture on March 29, while Australia and Saudi Arabia face off in Jeddah.
Moriyasu is looking no further than next week’s game in Sydney, with the Socceroos looking to avenge their 2-1 defeat in Saitama last September.
“Australia are also fighting for a World Cup place and they’re a good team – physically very strong, with good technique and well organised,” said Moriyasu. -AFP