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Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009

Verbeek believes pressure is on Japan in Group A qualifier


Staff writer

YOKOHAMA — Australia manager Pim Verbeek has shrugged off suggestions his players won't be ready in time for Wednesday's crunch World Cup qualifier against Japan, insisting the pressure is all on Takeshi Okada's side.

News photo
Ready to go: Australia striker Josh Kennedy and his teammates look to spoil Japan's home-field advantage in their World Cup qualifier on Wednesday in Yokohama. KYODO PHOTO

The Socceroos, with all but two of their members based in Europe, have had little time to prepare since arriving in Japan from their club sides this week. Four players — including Lucas Neill and Mark Bresciano — only touched down on Tuesday morning.

But Verbeek looked unruffled as he gave a news conference later in the day, insisting the preparations have caused "no problems" for his players.

"They slept, they are happy and they are ready," he said. "We have had this problem before, so we know how to deal with it. Playing at 7:30 p.m. (in Japan) for my players is 11:30 a.m. (in Europe), so it's like a normal training session.

"Physically they don't have a problem at all. I promise you flying to Australia is worse."

Australia leads World Cup Asian qualifying Group A with three wins from three games, two points ahead of Japan in second place. The top two teams qualify automatically for South Africa, with the third-place side forced into a playoff.

With the Australians in the driver's seat, Verbeek believes Japan cannot afford to lose in Yokohama.

"I think the pressure is totally on Japan," he said. "They have to win and we'd like to win. That is the big difference.

"We have three home games to go and I think we need six points to qualify. The pressure is not on our shoulders. We can play without any pressure so it makes it easy for us."

Okada, however, has refused to rise to Verbeek's bait.

"We have to do our best regardless of the pressure," Okada said. "That is all we can do.

"There's no point in worrying about the result. People sometimes worry too much about the future and regret what has happened in the past, but I don't like to do that. Let's just focus on now and see what we can do."

Okada has thrown a veil over Japan's training sessions in the buildup to the match, prompting Verbeek to accuse his opponent of running scared.

The Dutchman again adopted a nonchalant attitude on Tuesday as he extended an open invitation to watch his team's final training session.

"I think we will show exactly what we are going to do tomorrow, so you don't have to ask any questions," he said. "Just look at the training."

Verbeek was more guarded when asked about his team selection, dodging suggestions that Everton's Tim Cahill might start as a lone attacker.

"I don't know if Tim Cahill is playing tomorrow," he said. "They are all fit, they are ready and they are excited. I will make the final decision tomorrow morning when everyone wakes up."

Cahill is certain to start, despite Verbeek's cute protests, and is expected to play behind 196-cm Karlsruhe striker Josh Kennedy.

Okada, however, is refusing to single out any player for special attention.

"He (Cahill) is playing well for Everton," Okada said. "He is strong in the air and quick in front of goal, but we have to face all of their players. We don't have any game plan just for him."

The Australian team will wear black armbands as a mark of respect for victims of the bush fires that have devastated parts of the country. A minute's silence will be held before the match.



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