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Pressure mounting on Japan in WCup qualifier vs. Australia

October 10, 2021 GMT
Japan's Wataru Endo, right, fights for the ball with Saudi Arabia's Sultan Al-Ghannam during their match of the Asian zone group B qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at the King Abdullah sports city stadium, in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (AP Photo)
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Japan's Wataru Endo, right, fights for the ball with Saudi Arabia's Sultan Al-Ghannam during their match of the Asian zone group B qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at the King Abdullah sports city stadium, in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (AP Photo)
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Japan's Wataru Endo, right, fights for the ball with Saudi Arabia's Sultan Al-Ghannam during their match of the Asian zone group B qualifying soccer match for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at the King Abdullah sports city stadium, in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (AP Photo)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — With two defeats out of three games already in World Cup qualification, Japan needs to beat Australia on Tuesday in Saitama or face the genuine prospect of missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1994. In contrast, the Socceroos are in excellent form and will take a huge step towards Qatar with a win.

With just the top two of the six-team group automatically qualifying for the World Cup, Japan is already six points behind Australia and Saudi Arabia in Group B.

A 1-0 loss to Saudi Arabia in Jeddah last Thursday has raised questions why Japan, with a team full of European-based stars such as Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino, Kyogo Furuhashi of Celtic and Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu, is struggling.

The most recent loss, which came after a shock home defeat against Oman in September, was full of uncharacteristic errors and misplaced passes. It also increased criticism of coach Hajime Moriyasu.

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“We got tired and lost our rhythm, that’s when they capitalized and scored,” Moriyasu said. “If we don’t give up, I believe we can still win a ticket to the World Cup,” the 53-year-old added.

Australia, on course for a fifth successive World Cup, arrives in Japan full of confidence after winning its last 11 games.

“It’s something we’ll probably reflect on in the future and what a great feat it has been, especially playing 10 out of 11 games away from home,” said Australia coach Graham Arnold. “But to me it’s all about going to Japan and getting ready for Japan in Japan and making it 12.”

Saudi Arabia can make it four wins out of four to stay on course for a sixth World Cup appearance when it hosts China. The visitor, aiming to return to the global stage for the first time since its debut appearance in 2002, picked up a first win in the group on Thursday, defeating Vietnam 3-2 thanks to a last-minute Wu Lei goal.

Vietnam is still looking for its first points and travels to Muscat to take on Oman, level on three points with Japan.

In Group A, the big clash comes as Iran, in first place with maximum points, hosts South Korea in second. Korea has yet to impress but stayed on course for a tenth successive World Cup appearance on Thursday as a late Son Heung-min goal defeated Syria 2-1.

The game in Iran is Korea’s first away trip of the group.

“It’s not a decisive game. It’s just one more game,” Korea’s coach Paulo Bento said. “It’ll be a tough game and a very good challenge for us. But I am sure it will be a tough game for them as well.”

Korea has never won in seven meetings in Iran, losing five and drawing two, though Bento insisted that he will not just settle for one point against Asia’s best team, ranked 22 by FIFA.

We should play and fight to take three points,” he said. “From the beginning, we’re not going to play to draw the match. We’re going to play to win the match.”

The other four teams in Group A have yet to win. United Arab Emirates hosts Iraq in Dubai while Syria and Lebanon, who are both still looking for a first World Cup appearance, also meet.

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