Japan are favourites, Aussies claim ahead of qualifier
BRISBANE, June 11 — The scintillating displays that Asian champions Japan have produced in their two World Cup fourth round qualifiers have left Australia piling on the superlatives ahead of their eagerly anticipated clash tomorrow (1000 GMT).
Japan smashed Jordan 6-0 on Friday with Keisuke Honda scoring a hat-trick as the Blue Samurai's version of Spain's 'tiki taka', short-passing by rotating midfielders, was too quick and too good for the west Asians.
That result followed their opening 3-0 Group B win over Oman last week, a side who caused the Australians some trouble during a goalless draw in muggy Muscat on Friday.
Socceroos captain Lucas Neill, who led Australia to an extra time defeat in the Asian Cup final against Japan in Qatar last year, was wary of the task facing his side, who struggled badly in the searing 40 Celsius heat of Oman.
“I actually think Japan are the favourites for this game,” Neill told local media in Brisbane today.
“They've had better preparations, two home games and now they come here with confidence. They've come here earlier than we've come here, to play at our home.”
“But by no means do we see that as a bad thing. We like the underdog tag, we know we're in for a very tough game. It's going to be a fantastic game tomorrow night, one that we think we can win.”
Neill, without a club after being released by United Arab Emirates side Al Jazira, is part of an ageing old guard who continue to form the backbone of an Australia side looking to reach their third consecutive World Cup.
The 34-year-old is again expected to partner Sasa Ognenovski (33) at the back, ahead of goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer (39), with Harry Kewell (33) leading the line in a squad that lacks any real pace.
Compare that to Japan's youthful lineup featuring Honda (25), Manchester United-bound midfielder Shinji Kagawa (23) and flying leftback Yuto Nagatomo (25), who were all at the forefront of Japan's opening high-tempo victories, and it is easy to see why Neill made his prediction.
Australia coach Holger Osieck, who led Japanese club Urawa Red Diamonds to the Asian Champions League title in 2007, was full of praise for the Blue Samurai's improvements.
“The change that has taken place in Japanese football is significant,” Osieck said.
“The new generation is a free generation, an open-minded generation. They are not afraid anymore, whereas a number of years ago people were reserved and frightened of foreigners but that has changed drastically.
“Their different mindset reflects in the performance on the field. They are a different generation of players playing in the top teams in Europe and I think that is the significant difference.
“It's a great potential in this team, I have to admit. I mean, look at the quality.”
The fear that Osieck spoke of was evident in the Asian Cup final where Japan sat back more against Australia compared to the earlier rounds where they had successfully taken the game to the opposition.
Should they get on the front foot early in Brisbane, it will be hard for the Socceroos to avoid the same plight as Jordan and Oman. — Reuters