Al-Ain (United Arab Emirates) (AFP) – Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic warned his players not to get “silly” after a 2-0 win in the United Arab Emirates moved them closer to a sixth successive World Cup.
Goals from Yuya Kubo and Yasuyuki Konno on Thursday kept the Blue Samurai level at the top of Group B with Saudi Arabia in the final round of Asian qualifiers for next year’s Russia World Cup with 13 points from six games.
It also helped banish the demons of a 2-1 home defeat by the Emirates last September when Japan felt they were denied a point by poor officiating.
Although newspapers had already gone to print when the game ended at sunrise Friday local time, online editions invariably screamed “revenge”, despite Japan profiting from a bizarre penalty decision in a 2-1 win over the Saudis last time out.
Despite the euphoria, Halilhodzic was focusing on Tuesday’s home game against Thailand with Asian Cup holders Australia just three points off the group’s two automatic World Cup spots and the UAE a further point adrift with four games left to play.
“I told the players this win will mean nothing if we get beaten by Thailand,” the Franco-Bosnian told local media.
“If we continue to play like that we will get to the World Cup but it’s important not to blow it by doing something silly in the next game,” added the 64-year-old.
“It’s too early to be calculating points. We will take it one game at a time and I will continue to set the team up to win.”
Halilhodzic kept faith with Kubo — a player who previously looked ill-suited to the international game.
The Belgium-based striker’s troubles were neatly encapsulated when he managed to get lost on his way to the team hotel after arriving in the Emirates at the weekend, taking a taxi to the wrong location.
But Kubo repaid his coach’s trust with a sharp strike after 13 minutes to register his first goal for Japan.
“I found myself in space and it turned out nicely,” he said. “I didn’t have a good game last time so I was desperate to help the team. I know I need to keep doing it on a consistent basis.”
Konno, meanwhile, called his goal a “miracle” after being set up by Kubo.
“I had so much time I got a little bit flustered,” said Konno after winning his 88th cap. “But somehow it went in, which was a relief.”