Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu has known joy and despair throughout Asia’s World Cup preliminaries, but victory against Australia in Sydney on Thursday will ensure a happy conclusion to a dramatic campaign.
Japan and Saudi Arabia can both confirm their place in the final in Qatar this week, with Hervé Renard’s Saudi side set to qualify if they beat already-eliminated China in Sharjah. The Saudis lead Group B one point ahead of Japan with Australia in third, three points behind Moriyasu’s side and needing to defeat ‘Samurai Blue’ to take their destiny into their own hands.
The Japanese are set to contest a seventh straight World Cup despite a poor start to the final round of qualifying, when defeats to Oman and Saudi Arabia raised questions over Moriyasu’s future. But the former Sanfrecce Hiroshima boss weathered that slump to lead his side to five straight wins, including a 2-1 victory over the Australians in Japan in October, and three more points will be enough to secure a place in Qatar.
“Australia were very strong and their level of intensity was high when we played them last October,” Moriyasu told the Asian Football Confederation website. “I’m sure the next game will be more aggressive and intense than our last game, and I think it will be a good game of football.”
Iran and South Korea have already won the two automatic spots available in Group A, with the pair facing off in Seoul on Thursday in the battle for top spot. That leaves the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Iraq fighting for third place in the group and a place in the playoffs.
Iraq will face the United Arab Emirates in Riyadh while Lebanon host Syria in Sidon. The United Arab Emirates, under new coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena, are third with nine points, three ahead of the Lebanese with another point behind Iraq.
The two third-placed teams will meet in the playoffs in Qatar on June 7 before facing South American opponents for a place in the final a week later.
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