Asian heavyweights Japan have been finely tuned by coach Vahid Halihodzic, who will lead his side against Cambodia at the Olympic Stadium this evening, aiming to retain their top standing in the Pool E of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
The last home game in the cycle for Cambodia will also be Japan’s final away fixture. It kicks off under blazing lights at 7:15pm in a front of a crowd that is expected to pack the stadium like sardines and break all previous attendance records this season.
Addressing the members of the media at the Football Federation of Cambodia premises yesterday evening, Halihodzic laid out his priorities in the clearest possible terms.
“We cannot leave anything to chance and we cannot underestimate our rivals. After that shocking draw at home against Singapore we won quite well away five days ago and we need to keep that momentum going,” he declared.
“It is not about just the 11 players. It is all about the entire squad with an eye on the future, and I will make some changes but I can tell you that the players in the best condition will play,” he said.
“Our defence will have to pay attention to Cambodian counterattacks. They could pose some problems – as we realised during our home fixture.”
In his pre-match assessment, Cambodia coach Lee Tae Hoon indicated that the level of conditioning in the team was slightly lower than he would have been comfortable with.
“Our players have been playing without much rest in the past few months, what with the ongoing league and this campaign. That’s what worries me because we are playing a very strong team in Japan,” he said.
“I want our approach to be aggressive. We are facing a formidable set of players that we have to defend against. I hope our players can make use of counterattacks, an area we have often failed in in previous matches,” the South Korean said.
“I hope we can manage to get a point but that will be really tough. I want our players to soak up this experience of playing a world class team and learn some valuable career lessons. The opportunity of playing at this level is indeed a blessing for Cambodia,’’ the Cambodia coach said.
After their shock start to their campaign at home, where they were held to a goalless draw by Singapore on June 12, Japan have hit some good form, winning the next four matches and scoring 15 goals.
Japan’s latest victory came at Kallang where they tamed Singapore 3-0 on November 12. On the same day, Cambodia went down by the same scoreline to Afghanistan in their away clash.
Japan complete the pool engagements with a home game against Afghanistan on March 24, while Cambodia face Syria away on the same day.