Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic is bullish about his team’s chances against Cambodia as the Asian giants attempt to kick-start their World Cup qualifying campaign.
Thursday will see Japan welcome minnows Cambodia to Saitama Stadium 2002, with the hosts winless in four international matches.
Japan’s road to Russia 2018 opened with a disappointing goalless draw at home to Singapore in June and Halilhodzic’s men have failed to win a match since then, drawing twice and losing once at last month’s East Asian Cup in China.
The 2013 East Asian Cup champions lost 2-1 to North Korea and drew with eventual winners South Korea and hosts China (both 1-1) in Wuhan.
But Halilhodzic is confident Japan can return to winning ways against Cambodia, who have lost their two qualifying fixtures so far.
“The Cambodia match is the last one of the year to be played in Japan. We hope to finish the year beautifully,” Halilhodzic told reporters. “We will win it and boost ourselves up for the away contest.
“To live up to your expectation and put up a good result, the team and the players all get together to play an effective game to boost ourselves up for the next away match and to put up another good result.
“I expect the match is going to be similar to the Singapore match, but we don’t want to repeat that same outcome. We prepare detailed, various options against Cambodia and other teams.”
Stars Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki, captain Makoto Hasebe and Yuto Nagatomo are back in the squad, after Halilhodzic fielded a second-string team at the East Asian Cup.
Japan, however, are without defender Tomoaki Makino due to a groin injury, with his replacement being uncapped Yuichi Maruyama.
Form and class may be against Cambodia, who are 124 places below Japan in the FIFA rankings after 4-0 and 1-0 defeats to Singapore and Afghanistan respectively in June, but that is what makes them a dangerous proposition for the five-time Asian champions.
“I want my players to make the best of this great opportunity to play a world class team like Japan,” said Cambodia coach Lee Tae-hoon.
“We have done well to come this far in reaching the second round. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
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