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Aug 30, 2017

Soccer: Japan focusing on beating Australia not fate of coach, says Yoshida



SAITAMA, Japan - Japan defender Maya Yoshida says he and his national teammates are unfazed by reports that coach Vahid Halilhodzic could be sacked if the Blue Samurai fail to beat Australia in Thursday night's vital World Cup final-round qualifier.


Group B leaders Japan are just one point ahead of second-place Saudi Arabia and third-place Australia going into the match at Saitama Stadium, and reports claim even a draw might not be enough to save Halilhodzic from the chop ahead of the team's final game away to the Saudis on Sept. 5.


But speaking to reporters after Tuesday's training session, Yoshida said, "To be honest it (the atmosphere in the team) is really calm because we all know our situation."


"For the national team every single game is important and we have to win, especially in Asia. Managers are always under pressure, this is (part of) their job."


Yoshida also refused to be drawn into mind games that started on Monday, when Yokohama F Marinos' Australia international defender Milos Degenek claimed his Japanese teammates want Australia to win.


"In my team and my club, from what I've heard it's kind of silly to say, but they kind of want us to win," Degenek said. "They've got different reasons which I won't mention, but they don't all agree with the Japanese system and the coaching staff."


"They (Japan) haven't had the best of qualifying, the round hasn't been that good for them. They're not the best at dealing with pressure so we'll see what happens. I've had a lot of supporters from my club wish that we win. A lot of my players who are also Japanese wish that we win."


Asked to respond to the comments, Yoshida's answer was short and to the point: "How many Yokohama players play for the national team?"


Japan put on a defensive display when they drew 1-1 away to Australia in their last qualifier in October but Yoshida said he expects a more aggressive approach this time around.


"We all know it is a very important game to qualify for the World Cup for both sides. It's going to be a tough game against Australia every time and we have to be ready because we have only had a short time to prepare for the game," said the Southampton central defender.


"They will want to keep the ball and we will want to keep the ball as well so the possession percentage will be important when we attack and that kind of game management is important I think."


"I don't know how Australia are going to come at us but I think we are going to be more offensive and aggressive than the last away game against them. I think we were a little bit too defensive last time but it's a home game and we are ready and we are going to be more aggressive."


Japan have never beaten Australia in World Cup qualifying, losing twice and drawing five times.


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