Top spot and guaranteed spot in the final round of World Cup qualification is at stake when Japan host Syria in Saitama Tuesday. Japan are in the driver's seat going into this match, but Syria will look to cause an upset and with it move through to the final round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Japan currently lead the Group E standings with a near-perfect 19 points from seven matches. Since starting their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 0-0 draw against Singapore, Japan have gone on to win six matches in a row, with the latest one coming against Afghanistan Thursday in a 5-0 victory.
"That was a truly beautiful win," Japan manager Vahid Halilhodzic was quoted as saying by Bein Sports. "At the beginning we were passing the ball a bit too quickly, and some of the players were trying to do too much. But, overall, our team played phenomenally well, with a new system which I had never tried before with them."
The new system Halilhodzic was talking about was a midfield diamond with Shinji Okazaki and Mu Kanazaki playing up front. The Japan manager is unlikely to go with the same formation for the cannot-lose match against Syria. "I felt our players had the necessary edge in terms of quality," Halilhodzic of playing with the new system. "Of course you have to respect Afghanistan, but this was a chance to try something new.
"Maybe it's not the right thing to do in a World Cup qualifier but we also had some players arriving late and there were several factors in this decision."
Halilhodzic knows there is no room for experiment against a strong team like Syria, who are just a point behind their opponents and will top the group with a win, even if Japan beat them in the reverse fixture 3-0 and have gone the entire qualification round without conceding a single goal.
"We must prepare for the next game against an even tougher opponent," Halilhodzic added. "We must treat this as a final and go all out for the win. But not only the win, I want to win and finish this group without conceding any goals."
Where to Watch Live
Japan vs Syria is set to begin at 7.30 p.m. local time (4 p.m. IST, 11.30 a.m. BST, 6.30 a.m. ET). There will be no live TV or online coverage of the World Cup qualifier in India.
Viewers in Japan can watch their team play Syria live on TBS. Bein Sports 1 and Bein Sports 11 will broadcast the match live in the Middle East, including Syria, and North Africa. Bein Sports Connect is the online live streaming option.