The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is starting feel close now and Japan is close to booking its ticket. The Samurai Blue only needs to win in Jordan on Tuesday night in the final round of the Asian zone of qualification.
With a win tomorrow, the Samurai Blue will be the first team to qualify for the tournament. It wouldn’t be its first time: Japan did the same in 2010.
Under Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni, the team has earned 13 points from a possible 15. With the other four teams in the group taking points from each other, it is only a matter of time until Japan secures its spot.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
"We have got three games left to play before the end of the qualifiers, but we want to finish in style," Zaccheroni told the media recently. "My expectations, just like yours, are very, very high.
He added, "To live up to all these expectations, the pivotal point will be to get to this match as physically prepared as possible."
The AFC Asian Cup champions will have to do without stars Keisuke Honda and Yuto Nagatomo. But with talents like Shinji Kagawa of Manchester United, it should not be a huge problem.
If Japan ties in Amman then it will be enough for a place in Brazil if Australia ties with Oman in Sydney.
Australia has started the final round of qualifiers slowly, collecting just two points in the opening three games. The worries that were growing Down Under at the prospect of missing the first World Cup since 2002 were smoothed over by a hard-fought away win against Iraq last October. Australia now has five points.
With three of the four remaining games at home, the Socceroos should have enough to take second place. Any failure to take three points from Oman in Sydney will get heart rates racing. That would give Oman, Jordan or Iraq the advantage.
Over in Group A, matters are more interesting. Just one point separates the top four teams. Uzbekistan has eight points, while South Korea, Iran and Qatar each have seven.
The next phase for Group A starts with Qatar’s trip to Seoul on Tuesday. South Korea won 4-1 in Doha last August, but anything can happen. After a frustrating draw with Uzbekistan and a loss in Iran, South Korea needs three points and a return of confidence. Coach Choi Kang-hee is under pressure.
Meanwhile, Uzbekistan could take a big step towards its first World Cup if it defeats Lebanon in Tashkent.