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Japan target early 2014 qualification

November 13, 2012

DUBAI, Nov 13: Japan were the first nation to qualify for both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, and the Asian champions could achieve the feat for a third straight time with victory at Oman on Wednesday.

With 10 points from four matches in the final Asian qualification round, and four matches left to play, a win could move Japan eight points clear at the top of Group ‘B’. The top two teams from each of the two groups automatically qualify for Brazil in 2014.

Even without injured Manchester United star Shinji Kagawa, Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni is confident his team can win this week, just as it did during 2011 when the playmaker was out with a broken foot, or when the team’s other major star, Keisuke Honda, was injured earlier this year. “Kagawa is not here this time, but I’m sure that whoever fills in for him will do well,” the Italian coach said. “But don’t forget that the players that have come in to deputise for them have done a great job.”

Japan are aiming to bounce back from a 4-0 loss against Brazil last month, although that result was preceded by an impressive win 1-0 over France in Paris.

Oman coach Paul Le Guen said his side would be no pushovers at home and had dreams of their own. “I know the difference in potential between these two squads,” said the Frenchman, whose side are level with Australia on five points. “I’m very motivated but also very humble. We’ve improved, we are still in the running to qualify.”

Wednesday’s other Group ‘B’ game is at the Grand Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar, where both Iraq and Jordan will look to get their qualification campaigns back on track after disappointing defeats last month. The Jordanians lost 2-1 in Oman, while former Asian Cup-winners Iraq allowed Australia to score twice in the final 10 minutes as they lost by the same score to the Socceroos.

In Group ‘A’, Iran will look to move ahead of South Korea into top spot with a win against Uzbekistan at the Azadi Stadium.

There will also be plenty at stake when the group’s bottom two sides, Qatar and Lebanon, meet at Doha’s Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium. —Agencies