Former Asian champions Japan will tune up for the FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers by playing Chile and Belgium in the three-nation Kirin Cup football tournament this week.
In the Asian final qualifying round Group A, Australia lead the table with four wins and a draw for 13 points, followed by Japan on 11 points and Bahrain on seven points. Uzbekistan and Qatar each have four points. The top two teams will qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, while the third-placed team will have to survive play-offs. One more win for Japan will secure qualification.
"It is natural to think we are just one step away from the World Cup, but I've seen so many times that the tables can turn before winning. We haven't got anything yet," said Japan coach Takeshi Okada.
"We plan to gain our top form through these two games. We are just determined to do our best to beat Uzbekistan in our next game and concentrate on that," he added.
Japan will play Chile in Osaka on Wednesday and Belgium in Tokyo on Sunday in the Kirin Cup before playing Uzbekistan away on 6 June, Qatar at home on 10 June and Australia away on 17 June. Chile and Belgium will play each other in Ichihara, near Tokyo, on Friday, vying for the winners' prize of $100,000. The runners-up will receive $50,000 and the third place team will get $10,000.
"I really wanted to have a game against Chile again since we played them last year," said Okada, referring to the 0-0 draw the teams played out in his first game after taking over when Bosnian tactician Ivica Osim suffered a stroke in late 2007. "I was surprised, because they put pressure on us very well. They will be very helpful for us to improve our game."
Belgium always play solidly, he added, and would be a useful reference point ahead of the qualifiers. Seven-time FIFA World Cup participants Chile have 20 points and are in third place in their group. They trail Paraguay by four points and Brazil by one point, well within an automatic qualification of the top four in the South American round.
Belgium, who have played 11 FIFA World Cups, are fourth in their group on seven points behind powerhouse Spain on 18 points, Bosnia and Herzegovina on 12 points and Turkey on eight points.