Journo analysis: Japan v Caltex Socceroos

What's the mood in Japan a day before the huge World Cup qualifier against the Caltex Socceroos?

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We spoke with Japan-based Alan Gibson, the always quotable publisher and editor of the popular JSoccer Magazine.

Gibson has followed Japanese football since before the J.League began in 1993 and has his finger very much on pulse of football in the Land of the Rising Sun.

What’s the mood like in Japan ahead of such a big clash?

The same as ever.

In the main the national team is followed by a huge number of people who don't seem to follow the J.League as closely - and it should be noted, unlike many countries a huge percentage of female fans - who will support the team through thick and thin.


So it's a mood of looking forward to a big "event" and optimistic that it will be fun and friendly, colourful and, oh yes, hopefully a win and more games - and a World Cup - to follow!

There are of course the hardcore fans who demand nothing less than a win in every match - the Ultras, if you will - but even they won't give up until it is 100% confirmed mathematically impossible to progress! (Unlike the press, who tend to look for/create stories of tension or unrest or other such clickbait).

So, in the main, looking forward to a fun Thursday night in front of the TV for millions, led by jingoistic amateur commentators - but that's what the majority of Japan fans want and know, and like. Analysis? In depth focus? Forget that!

Oh, and may I be so bold as to say it's not THAT big a game?

Japan need one win from two matches, perhaps even a couple of draws will suffice.

Keisuke Honda (right) has urged Japan to take a 'bold' approach against the Caltex Socceroos.

It should be a run-of-the-mill game for a team that expects to qualify for the World Cup.

If this Japan team can't win one of two against teams they would expect to beat in most cases, then they don't deserve a place at a World Cup anyway, right?!

How do you think Vahid Halilhodzic will approach this game?

I don't see him trying anything special. His only decision may be whether to go for the experience of the likes of Hasebe (missing for a few matches, and, yes, probably in as he is the captain), Kagawa and Honda.

Or the raw, dangerous talent of Yuya Kubo, along with Genki Haraguchi, perhaps.

Socceroos midfielder Aaron Mooy fights for the ball with Japan's Genki Haraguchi.

There is SO much talent for Japan to choose from, in attacking midfield, in particular, that he has to consider.

Experience against a probably all out physical assault from Australia, or less experience, more unpolished - but not burdened by expectations - players who might be unsettled by a physical match.

I think we'll see a mix of both - Hasebe in but Kagawa and/or Honda on the bench.

And the Japan side of the match will be hoping for a decent referee who can control the game fairly.

Who will be key for the Samurai Blue on the night?

The good news for Japan, perhaps, is that there are no key men right now.

This is a decent team, a great squad of players that perform for each other.

The rise to stardom of the likes of Kagawa and Honda has more recently been overshadowed by "lesser-known" (certainly outside of Japan-football followers) emerging talent like Yuya Kubo, Genki Haraguchi (a Halilhodzic favourite) and in defensive midfield Yosuke Ideguchi, who is ready to step up.

Japanese players celebrate a goal in their 1-1 draw with the Caltex Socceroos in October, 2016.

Perhaps, looking at it a different way, whoever plays centre back with Maya Yoshida will be the key, for the absence of recent shoo-in for that spot - Masato Morishige - is injured.

The FC Tokyo captain will be missed.

Gen Shoji is a class player, though considered a little short for a centre back, while his Kashima Antlers centre back partner Naomichi Ueda is taller, harder, but less experienced in the international arena.

Then we have the "effervescent" Tomoaki Makino, used to playing in a back three, and leaking goals for Urawa Reds.

I find he is actually better with a back four and leader partner next to him. There are rumours of left back Yuto Nagatomo also being injured so we may see Gotoku Sakai there, but he's more than capable.

That centre back position next to Yoshida will be key.

Which player (s) do the hosts fear the most in the Australian side?

Listening to current chat and then going back over the years, the Japanese media (though not necessarily the actual players?) always focus on height first, then physical play.

If Josh Kennedy was still around they'd be going on and on about how tall he is.

Tim Cahill is a known quantity and, with a ref who is not so aware, would be very dangerous pushing the physical side as far as he can until the ref curtails it.

Tim Cahill says the Caltex Socceroos produce their best when critics write them off.

I get the feeling that Japan will be more concentrating on their own game than worrying about the opposition.

Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes not! 

What's your take on this current Australian side?

Can't say I follow the lads much... Mitch Duke, Oliver Bozanic, Nathan Burns... the lads in Japan, or the players that have been in Japan.

Then they pass under my scrutiny - otherwise, I rarely get the time to "scout".

Pushed I'd say what I've seen over the last year or more of Rogic, Juric and Mooy - they'll be the ones to be wary of.

Caltex Socceroos midfielder Aaron Mooy holds off a Cameroon defender.

But Japan will be aware of what all the players can do and will be ready. The one thing Japan players don't possess is "malicia", which is why I keep going on about the referee!

“If Japan get kicked about they rarely, if ever, give it back, even if a referee might allow it.

Ideguchi has a bit of that, and I'd like to see him start alongside Hasebe in central midfield.

How do you see this game playing out?

Colourful, noisy, a spectacle off the field, for sure.

The Japan fans are behind their team non-stop and it will be a sea of blue. But really you're asking for a prediction, aren't you!?

Lots of skill on the ball from Japan, some nervous defending, and an early goal to settle the nerves for the Japan team!

Caltex Socceroos midfielder Massimo Luongo and Japanese superstar Shinji Kagawa.

Then it will be (here I go again) down to the referee to make sure it stays a fair fight, uh, I mean football match.

There is indeed a LOT at stake for Australia and - no offence meant - the Aussies will be far more up for the physical stuff, than Japan, if it's needed.

Four draws so far for Australia, would you be happy with another one? Japan, if allowed to play, will take it on the odd goal... 2-1. 

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