x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

World Cup qualifying: Oman heat could hamper Japan's run

Al Habsi dismisses visiting coach's fears as Oman seek a first win against Group B leaders.

Japan's players looked comfortable in Muscat but coach Alberto Zaccheroni is concerned.
Japan's players looked comfortable in Muscat but coach Alberto Zaccheroni is concerned.

Ali Al Habsi, the Oman goalkeeper, has told runaway group leaders Japan to stop complaining about the heat ahead of tonight's World Cup qualifier.

Alberto Zaccheroni, the Japan coach, said yesterday that sweltering conditions will be his side's biggest challenge in their Group B clash under Muscat's fierce afternoon sun.

"Without a doubt the heat is my only concern," the Italian told a news conference.

"You never know what kind of effect the hot weather will have on the game. I'm sure the game would be played at a different pace if it was being played at eight in the evening."

But Al Habsi, whose heroics have helped Oman preserve an unbeaten home record in Asian qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, ticked off the Italian for playing mind games.

"It's not like June here when it's 50° Celsius," the Wigan Athletic goalkeeper said. "It's only 30, which is good for us and the Japan players. In the summer in Japan it is like that so they are used to it. It's no big difference."

Japan, the Asian champions, can move within touching distance of the 2014 World Cup by extending their unbeaten record against Oman.

The Blue Samurai are heavy favourites to reach their fifth consecutive World Cup after picking up 10 points from their first four games in Group B to move five points clear at the halfway mark.

While they cannot confirm their ticket to Brazil this week, a victory at Muscat's Sultan Qaboos Sport Complex would open up an eight-point lead and allow Zaccheroni's side to start making plans for the summer of 2014.

Despite the absence of Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa, who scored the late winner against France in Paris last month, Japan are expected to win.

Japan have never lost in seven World Cup qualifiers against Oman, and beat them 3-0 in Saitama in June. In Muscat, they won 1-0 during their successful campaigns in 1998 and 2006, and drew 1-1 in the 2010 qualifiers.

However, Zaccheroni has left little to chance by naming a strong squad for the match with 13 European-based players including CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda, who has four goals in Japan's four games thus far.

Kagawa will miss the match with a knee injury but Zaccheroni, whose side also lost 4-0 to Brazil last month, is confident that they can cope with the absence of the attacking midfielder.

"Don't forget that the players that have come in to deputise have done a great job," the Italian said. "Kagawa is not here this time, but I'm sure that whoever fills in for him will do well."

Today's other Group B game is at the Grand Hamad Stadium in Doha, Qatar, where both Iraq and Jordan will look to get their campaigns back on track after disappointing defeats last month.

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