Japan captain Makoto Hasebe has lit the fire ahead of Tuesday's match with Australia, expecting a long-ball approach from the Socceroos and labeling them inferior to Bulgaria
|By SHAM MAJID
Japan captain Makoto Hasebe has set the tone for Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Australia by declaring that friendly opponents Bulgaria are a better team than the Socceroos.
The defending Asian champions are set to warm up for their assignment with Australia by tackling the Bulgarian national side in a friendly match on Thursday.
And Hasebe believes a 'better' team in Bulgaria will help Japan prepare for the Socceroos' visit to Saitama.
"Before we even discuss what our opponents are doing, we have an idea of how we want to play, and we feel very strongly about winning at home and booking a World Cup spot," Hasebe told Daily Sports.
"However, Australia are in a position where they have to win. I think they'll come at us with long balls frequently, so we have to contest those balls and improve our efforts on the second balls.
"Bulgaria may not come at us with so many long passes, but they're a very good team and I daresay they may be better than Australia."
Japan are sitting at the summit of Group B with 13 points from six matches. The Socceroos are struggling in third spot with six points, although they have a game in hand over second-placed Jordan.
Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni is hoping that his players will emerge unscathed from their Bulgaria fixture.
"This is our only friendly in a long series of games, so we have to confirm two things; the players' conditions and whether we can try out the 3-4-3 formation," he said.
"I hope we can go into the Australia game without losing any players."
Australia and Japan have already played out a series of enthralling matches, following their maiden meeting during the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.
Their last encounter saw Luke Wilkshire scoring from the penalty spot to ensure the Socceroos gained a point in a 1-1 draw with the Blue Samurai in June, 2012.