Japan World Cup qualifiers
Japan players celebrate a goal in their World Cup qualifier against Thailand, September 6, 2016Reuters

Japan got back on course in the FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifiers with a win over Thailand in their last match, and the Asian heavyweights will hope to continue taking the planned path when they host Iraq in a crucial match on Thursday. Having lost their opening encounter at home, Japan cannot afford another slip-up, something the experienced side will be well aware of.

The Blue Samurai began their World Cup qualifying campaign in the worst possible manner, when the UAE created a 2-1 upset.

However, with a comfortable 2-0 win over Thailand following that defeat, Japan will now look to carry on that winning momentum when they play Iraq, who have lost both their games so far.

Vahid Halilhodzic knows such is the competitive nature of these qualifiers that Japan cannot afford to drop any more points, a pressure the manager hopes the players will embrace.

"There's always pressure in the final qualifiers but it can help motivate the players," Halilhodzic, who team have a tremendous record against Iraq, told reporters. "At this phase of the qualifying competition, just playing well isn't good enough. You have to do remarkably well to get the job done.

"And there will be even more at the World Cup finals because a billion people around the world will be watching it.

"The pressure and intensity only increases from here. Like I said, pressure is not necessarily a bad thing because it can motivate you."

Japan certainly have the talent and experience to be able to cope with that pressure, and up against a team yet to pick up a single point in the final round of the qualifiers, the home team will be expected to pick up a win.

The likes of Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki, all capable of the special, are in the team, but German-based players Takashi Usami and Yoshinori Muto will miss the match through injury. Halilhodzic remains confident he has a squad strong enough to see off the challenge of Iraq, before the really big match against Australia comes into play next week.

"I told them in a short speech that (the match against Iraq) will be a mental battle more than anything," Halilhodzic added.

"The football itself isn't the difficult part. It's elsewhere. Iraq had a lot of time to train for this game whereas we haven't. We have enough quality in the team to qualify, and I believe we will win."

Where to Watch Live

Japan vs Iraq is set to begin at 7.35pm local time (4.05pm IST, 11.35am BST). Live Streaming and TV information is below.

India: No live coverage.

Japan: TV: NHK and TV Asahi.

Iraq and Middle East: TV: Bein Sports Arabia. Live Streaming: Bein Sports Connect.

USA: TV: ESPN3. Live Streaming: Watch ESPN.

SouthEast Asia: TV: Fox Sports.