TOKYO: Keisuke Honda is out to be a hero again for Japan against Australia in Thursday’s crunch World Cup qualifier while South Korea will hope to secure a berth in Russia next year.
Midfield stalwart Honda’s 91st-minute penalty at Saitama four years ago secured a 1-1 draw against the Socceroos and with it Japan’s place at Brazil 2014.
A win for the Blue Samurai in the penultimate round of Asian zone matches would see the Group B leaders guaranteed a place in the next year’s finals.
Any other result would leave their fortunes in the balance ahead of their final game against second-placed Saudi Arabia in Jeddah next week.
They lead third-placed Australia by just one point, with the Saudis, who face the UAE in Al Ain on Thursday, also a point behind.
The former AC Milan midfielder Honda, 31, who now plays for Pachuca in Mexico, is not an automatic choice for Japan these days but is itching for a chance to repeat his heroics at the same Saitama stadium on Thursday.
“My intention is to be in the starting 11,” Honda told reporters after training on Monday.
“Obviously the situation is different to what it was four years ago but the essence is the same. There are no mind games. We just have to be bold and get the job done.”
In Seoul, South Korea face the already-qualified Iran needing a victory that could see them qualify from Group A if struggling China keep their miniscule hopes of securing a playoff place alive by beating third-placed Uzbekistan in Wuhan.
Manager Shin Tae-Yong is boosted by the return to fitness of Tottenham Hotspur’s prolific striker Son Heung-Min, who made his first start of the season on Sunday after breaking his arm against Qatar in June.
Iran are already guaranteed to top Group A, but manager Carlos Queiroz vowed his side would not take their foot off the gas as they aim to preserve their unbeaten record.
China languish at the bottom of the Group and need to win both their remaining games, and hope other results go their way, to have a chance of making the playoffs.
Manager Marcello Lippi has urged his player to believe “the impossible may happen” despite only recording one win in their eight qualifying matches.
The top two in each of the two Asian zone groups will qualify automatically for Russia 2018, while the third-placed teams will face play-offs.