Vahid Halilhodzic, the manager of Japan has summoned three Europe-based strikers to bolster his side for today’s Group E clash with Cambodia in the second round of the World Cup qualifiers at the Saitama Stadium even as pressure is mounting on the Bosnian to come up with his first win in four competitive games since he took over from Mexican Javier Aguirre, who was shown the door earlier this year.
Japan’s goalless draw with Singapore at home in the Group opener on June 16 came as more of an irritant than a body blow for Halihodizic, who was then forced to return empty-handed from the East Asian Cup in China.
These two recent below-par results have combined in good measure to raise the stakes for Halihodizic and his players even though Japan is a far superior side than Cambodia’s, for whom this test is all about making good a rare opportunity to compete with classy opposition.
Cambodia’s coach Lee Tae Hoon is in no doubt that the task ahead of his players, containing let alone confronting a team like Japan, and away from home as well, is a formidable one.
But as he has made it amply clear multiple times, the South Korean’s main thrust is to lead his players to perform at their best and not to be overawed by either the occasion or Japan’s reputation.
At the unveiling of his 23-member squad last week, Halihodizic downplayed the impact of his side’s recent performances on overall team morale ahead of this game, but he did admit that he would sleep better if Japan won their matches against Cambodia and Afghanistan.
“It is the first time in my life I have gone four matches without a win. I love winning and I am not satisfied that we have not won.
“But I am not sad either. The players showed great quality in the Singapore game and created plenty of chances, really tried hard to score and defended well,’’ Halihodizic told a news conference in Tokyo.
“But at the same time we don’t want a repeat of that against Cambodia. We don’t want to make excuses a second time.
“We have to score and produce a performance that we can all be satisfied with,’’ the Japan Times quoted the manager as saying.
While Japan’s experienced goal-keeper Kawashima was dropped from the team, the side will be leaning on its star power to attain its goal of a sound victory.
The attacking trio of Keisuke Honda,(AC Milan), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) and Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City) is expected to make life difficult for the Cambodian back line.
It is only Cambodia’s third meeting with Japan in nearly 51 years. The two sides met for the first time at the Merdeka Tournament in Malaysia way back in 1964 when Japan won 4-0.
The next encounter was at the 1970 Sixth Asian Games in Bangkok where Japan got the better of what was then known as the Khmer Empire 1-0.
South Korea’s Kim Hee Gon will officiate the game with the assistance of two of his compatriots as linesmen. The kickoff will be at 5.30pm Cambodian time.
Apart from live streaming of this match in several outlets, there will be live coverage on local channel BTV.
Thousands of Cambodian fans have been thronging to the Olympic Stadium for all national team games including friendlies ever since the Kingdom’s unprecedented passage to the second round of the world Cup qualifiers.
According to several pre-match media surveys, in keeping with the recent spectator trends, tens of thousands are expected to be glued to their TV sets.