Japan coach Takeshi Okada received an early warning on Tuesday of the importance of his FIFA World Cup™ qualifier against group leaders Australia.
Japan Football Association president Motoaki Inukai said: "It is fatal if Japan lose at home tomorrow." When Okada was asked about his reaction to Inukai's statement, he said: "It is up to the president what he thinks. We will just try to win tomorrow's game."
Japan suffered a shock 1-0 away defeat to Bahrain in an AFC Asian Cup qualifier last month when fielding only two of their European-based players, triggering media calls for Okada to be sacked.
Despite a 5-1 win over second-rung Finland in a warm-up game last week, Japan showed their vulnerability once again as they struggled with set pieces and their opponents' height. It was a third straight game in which Japan conceded a goal from a set piece, after conceding one against Yemen in an Asian Cup qualifying match.
Meanwhile, Australia coach Pim Verbeek piled pressure on Japan by indulging in more of the mind games that have featured in the lead-up to Wednesday's qualifier. "I just want to repeat: I think the pressure is still on Japan. They have to win. We'd like to win, but we don't have to win. Japan will have serious problems if they don't win," he said ahead of the sell-out clash.
"We have three home games to go. I think we need six points to qualify. There's no pressure on our side. The pressure is still on Japan, especially an away game against Uzbekistan, which is not very easy."
Australia lead Group 1 with nine points, followed by Japan on seven and Qatar on four. Bahrain and Uzbekistan each have one point. The top two teams from the group will qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals in South Africa, while the third-placed team has to go through play-offs.