SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A weary Japan are out for revenge when they take on Singapore in their World Cup qualifier on Thursday and are banking on a more precise approach in the final third to stymie the stubborn Southeast Asians, coach Vahid Halihodzic said.
Lowly Singapore stunned the four-times Asian champions by holding them to a goalless draw in June, thanks in large to a standout display by goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud and some sketchy finishing in Saitama by the revered Japanese frontline.
Franco-Bosnian coach Halihodzic was in no mood for a repeat at the National Stadium on Thursday, where a victory for the visitors would take them back above Syria to the top of Group E on 13 points ahead of next week’s fixture in Cambodia.
“For our players, it will be a revenge game,” the former Algeria coach told reporters in Singapore on Wednesday.
“This time it will be difficult. Singapore are playing at home and will play for their people but we have the determination and quality to fight for victory.”
Halihodzic said he was unsure who he would select for the fixture, against opponents who also have 10 points, after a hectic run of games in the J.League for the domestic-based players and a long flight for the European-based contingent.
Finding the right formula in attack has been somewhat problematic for Halihodzic, whose side have racked up 12 goals in three subsequent Group E victories over Afghanistan, Cambodia and Syria but have lacked the fluidity for long periods.
“So far, the opponents we’ve played are playing with a (defensive) block of nine or 10 players and its difficult to score a goal,” the former Yugoslavia striker said.
“If a goal comes as early as possible it is better for us, but if that doe not happen, then we cannot lose confidence.
“I spoke to the players about improving set-pieces and crosses and especially (play) in the last 30 metres.”
With home matches to comes against Afghanistan and Syria in March, it is unthinkable to expect anything other than Japan topping the group and advancing to the next stage of Russia 2018 qualifying and booking a spot at the 2019 Asian Cup.
Halihodzic, though, was keen to utilise the fixtures to fine tune the side’s finishing ahead of tougher tests to come on the continent.
“The most important thing for us tomorrow is to win the game but we have to score as many as possible as well,” the firebrand coach said through a translator.
“For that we have to go with determination. We will be playing against stronger opponents in the future so this time when we play against a weaker team, we have to score goals
“That’s the motto of the team, we want to attack and score, but we know scoring is the most difficult thing in football.”
(By Patrick Johnston, Editing by John O’Brien)