Japan face Bahrain for top spot
TOYOTA: Japan and Bahrain on Wednesday will slug it out for top spot in their group in the last game of the final qualifying round for the Asian Cup.
Both sides have already qualified for the competition in January next year in Qatar, but Japan, who are at full strength for the clash, currently head Group A with a marginally superior goal difference.
"We want to finish top of the group, which will help us in the draw for the Asian Cup," said Bahrain's Czech coach Milan Macala ahead of the showdown at the Toyota Stadium in central Japan.
While the home side made the World Cup in South Africa in June, Bahrain narrowly missed out to New Zealand in a play-off.
Japan coach Takeshi Okada said: "Basically, I must think about winning this game and prepare for the World Cup at the same time, but I want my players to concentrate on winning this game."
Japan have a 7-3 win-loss record against Bahrain, but the pressure is on Okada after his side failed to win the East Asian Championship last month on home soil, where China took the honours.
"We couldn't play a good game in the East Asian Championship. I hope to build up the team to play a good game this time," said Okada.
The coach has been criticised for relying too heavily on stars Shunsuke Nakamura and Yasuhito Endo, but Okada said he was unconcerned about Nakamura's failure to get playing time with the Spanish club Espanyol.
He will return to his former side Yokohama Marinos in the J-League for the season starting in March.
"Although he has not been playing, he said he has no problem for the game," Okada said of the 31-year-old midfield schemer.
Other overseas players lining up for the home side include highly rated forward Takayuki Morimoto, who plays for Catania in Italy.