Ja­pan on high alert for Saudi ‘provo­ca­teurs’

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

TOKYO:

Ja­pan coach Vahid Halil­hodzic yes­ter­day warned his play­ers against Saudi Ara­bia’s “spe­cial­ists in provo­ca­tion” in a home World Cup qual­i­fier this month that could po­ten­tially de­cide his own fu­ture.

The Franco-Bos­nian, whose po­si­tion as head coach has been plunged into doubt af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing 2018 qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign, has named a full-strength side for the Novem­ber 15 clash in Saitama.

“Firstly, it’s a six-pointer and we know we must win,” said Halil­hodzic, who will be des­per­ate for vic­tory af­ter watch­ing the Blue Sa­mu­rai slip to third in their group in the fi­nal round of Asian 2018 qual­i­fy­ing.

“But we also know Saudi Ara­bia win a lot of free kicks and penal­ties. Fifty per­cent of their goals come that way-they are spe­cial­ists at pro­vok­ing free kicks.”

“We’ve been pe­nalised a lot in our last few games and those penal­ties have cost us,” he added. “I have to drill it into the play­ers not to be so naive this time be­cause this is a game we have to win.”

Ja­pan con­ceded a penalty in their shock 2-1 home de­feat to UAE in Septem­ber and an­other when they drew 1-1 with Asian Cup-hold­ers Aus­tralia in Melbourne.

With Ja­pan cur­rently out of the au­to­matic qual­i­fy­ing spots and fac­ing a bat­tle to reach a sixth suc­ces­sive World Cup, Halil­hodzic knows an­other slipup against the high-fly­ing Saudis could cost him his job.

“Saudi Ara­bia are im­prov­ing,” said the fire­brand for­mer Al­ge­ria coach. “Arab sides are get­ting bet­ter tech­ni­cally and in all el­e­ments of the game. They have real qual­ity so we need to be on our game.”

Ja­pan, who face Oman in a warm-up game in Kashima next Fri­day before tack­ling the Saudis, will be spear­headed by tal­is­manic for­ward Keisuke Honda and play­maker Shinji Ka­gawa.

How­ever, Halil­hodzic must hope for an im­prove­ment on the re­cent form with a dif­fi­cult run of games to come while ru­mours of a rift be­tween the coach and his play­ers have done lit­tle to help the team’s flag­ging morale.

Ja­pan trail Group B lead­ers Saudi Ara­bia, who have 10 points from four matches, and Aus­tralia, on eight points, with only the top two teams from the two groups qual­i­fy­ing au­to­mat­i­cally for the 2018 World Cup in Rus­sia. — AFP

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