Saitama (Japan) (AFP) – Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic called on his players to fight like samurai warriors in Thursday’s World Cup qualifier against Australia after being tipped to win — by a “psychic” parrot.
Local media reported Wednesday that an avian tipster called Olivia had predicted a win for the home side, which would book their spot in a sixth successive World Cup finals next summer.
But Halilhodzic, who reports suggest faces the axe if Japan lose the Saitama clash, demanded his players give fans a performance to be proud of against the Asian champions.
“I need 11 samurai warriors,” the fiery Franco-Bosnian told reporters.
“Nobody just gives you a ticket to Russia. If we don’t believe, we will make it difficult for ourselves. We can’t afford any mistakes.”
Australia can also progress with a victory after Saudi Arabia crashed to a 2-1 defeat in the United Arab Emirates overnight.
But coach Ange Postecoglou bristled at the suggestion that Australia would be any less committed against the group leaders in their penultimate game.
“While people are making a big deal about last night’s result, I can guarantee the boys won’t bat an eyelid,” he insisted.
“The motivation for tomorrow is the same as it would be regardless. Our goal is to win here tomorrow night and win on Tuesday (against Thailand),” added Postecoglou.
“Our fate’s been in our hands the whole way and it continues to be.”
Japan top Group B with 17 points — one more than Australia and Saudi Arabia. The Emirates have 13, meaning they too have a mathematical chance of qualifying.
“There’s quality in all the teams and if you’re not on your game, you could lose,” warned Postecoglou.
“The pressure probably got to Saudi Arabia a little bit.”
Postecoglou expects a tight game, with neither side likely to take too many risks.
“I’d be very surprised if the Japanese try to play out from the back,” he said. “We’ll press them, absolutely ready to go.
“But I’ve got a feeling they’re just going to launch it and if they do that, we’ve got to make sure we’re in the right space to play that kind of football.”
Japan too will have no qualms about winning ugly. But if they fail to beat Australia, they get a second bite of the cherry away to the Saudis next week, when a draw will see them through to Russia.
However, it remains to be seen whether Halilhodzic will make the trip to Jeddah should they slip up against the Australians.
The former Algeria coach, who has polarised opinion within the Japan Football Association, stuck to script on Wednesday.
“I’ve been studying Australia for the past two months,” he said. “We have the weapons to hurt them and will look to hit them with everything we have.”