Japan are already in tension, taking a look into their boom-or-bust 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier group with Australia, according to the J-League-based Aussie Mitchell Duke. Upontopping the Group B by a lone point ahead of Saudi Arabia and Australia with two matchesat hand, the Samurai Blue are feeling the heat from critics after an unconvincing campaign so far.
Awaiting their last group game away to the currently second-placed Saudi Arabia, Japan cannot afford to freeze against the Socceroos in Saitama on August 31. Where they fail to makean automatic qualification for Russia 2018 they may have to be forced into unnecessary play-off matches. Duke, who has showcased his talent in his 19 league games for Shimizu S-Pulse this season, missed out on a Socceroos recall for the latest instalment of a gripping melodrama between two of Asia’s fiercest rivals.
But, as a J-League home-based, he is perfectly placed to take the temperature of the clash – and believes the blow torch is pointed at Japan. “I think the critics have been quite tough on the Japanese boys of late,” he said. “Many people are expecting a lot better results than what the team has been able to deliver in some of the group games. They were expected to win games more convincingly and not to have dropped points in games they were seen as favorites to win, like in the disappointing 1-1 draw against Iraq.”
Despite the Japanese still in a struggle to ignite, their squad still exudes quality with no less than 11 players based in Europe. To name a few there is Shinji Kagawa at Borussia Dortmund, Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Hiroki Sakai (Marseille), Shinji Okazaki (Leicester City) and Genki Haraguchi (team-mate of Mathew Leckie’s at Hertha Berlin).