The Saturday showdown between these two rivals and clear contenders for the Asian Cup has come too prematurely. But there is no way around it as the Socceroos were the second best team in their group behind Iraq after being humbled by them in a shocking 3-1 defeat. Japan on the other hand topped their group.
So the mind games have begun as John Aloisi and Timmy Cahill, the two players who shot Japan's chances in the 2006 World Cup have stated that they wish to see Japan off early.
"To win the tournament you have to beat the best teams. Japan are the favorites and we have to finish them off first if we want to go on and win the cup," said striker Aloisi. "Hopefully we won't leave it until quite so late this time."
But Japan has been in good form in the group after an insipid draw against Qatar with Shunsuke Nakamura and Naohiro Takahara really opening up the offense against UAE and Vietnam. Takahara has three and Nakamura two. The Socceroos have relied mainly on their physical and aerial presence to score goals against their shorter opponents. Mark Viduka has three and Michael Beauchamp has one. Viduka plays best with his back to the opponents where he can hold them off, creating chances to score.
My feeling is that Graham Arnold will open with either John Aloisi or Tim Cahill to keep an edge psychologically. Cahill is now becoming a super sub. The other factor is Marcus Tulio Tanaka, the powerful central defender for Urawa Reds missing through injury, which opens up the aerial game for the Socceroos who will float a lot of long balls and crosses for Beauchamp, Viduka, and Aloisi to head home. A lot of pressure will fall on Yuji Nakazawa as the only tall defender who matches Viduka's 6' 2" frame. The other defenders give up almost 5" to 6" in height to the Newcastle man.
Goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi will have to summon all his experience and be at his acrobatic best. To keep the Socceroos busy the Japanese will have to force them to play a long field by challenging them early in play and cut off the passing lanes quickly. Make them predictable with their long balls. Counter the physical and aerial presence through speed. Nakamura believes that is why Japan lost in the World Cup when they sat back too deep and allowed so much space.
The Socceroos are rightly worried about Nakamura and face a similar quandary that other teams face when playing Kaka. Man to man or defend him by committee.
All in all, it makes for a very engrossing match up as two coaches who believe in very different philosophies pit their wits against each other and two teams with distinctly different styles of play that has yielded success in the past come together for this long awaited rematch.