Australia hold the mental edge over regional rivals Japan ahead of their pivotal FIFA World Cup™ qualifier in Yokohama next week, Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill has said.
The West Ham United defender believes Australia's 3-1 group stage win at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany will still be playing on the minds of the Japanese leading into their 11 February crunch match. Japan have since claimed partial revenge with a penalty shootout win over the Australians in the 2007 AFC Asian Cup quarter-finals in Hanoi, but Neill says that would have done little to heal the scars from Germany.
"We know psychologically we have a slight edge over them from the World Cup," Neill told Australian Associated Press. "We were nowhere near our best in the Asian Cup, it took the luck of penalties to decide the game and unfortunately we lost."
We know psychologically we have a slight edge over them from the World Cup.
Japan coach Takeshi Okada has called up Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura and four other Europe-based players for the Australia game, following a humiliating 1-0 away defeat to lower-ranked Bahrain in a qualifier for the 2011 Asian Cup last week. Japan did not call up key overseas-based players for the match and the loss has put Okada under pressure.
The match is by far the biggest of the FIFA World Cup campaign for both sides in their quest to book a spot for South Africa 2010. Australia are unbeaten after three games and lead their Asian group, two points ahead of Japan, and a win in Yokohama would put them within reach of a second successive finals appearance.
"It would give us one foot in the door and mathematically we'd be in a great position," Neill said. "So we're just going to go there, be resilient and try to continue the great run of form we've had, and if we can steal a win that would be great."
Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek is expected to announce a European-dominated squad on Tuesday.