'Frustration' to drive Japan in North Korea World Cup qualifiers

AFP , Wednesday 20 Mar 2024

Japan will be motivated by the "frustration" of their Asian Cup flop when they face North Korea in a World Cup qualifying double-header, coach Hajime Moriyasu said Wednesday.

Japan s coach Hajime Moriyasu attends a press conference before their World Cup qualifier

The pre-tournament favourites and four-time champions exited the Asian Cup in the quarter-finals last month after losing 2-1 to Iran.

Unconvincing in their three wins and two defeats, Japan had problems off the pitch too with winger Junya Ito leaving the squad after an allegation of sexual assault, which he denies.

Ito, who plays for French side Reims, has been left out of the squad for Thursday's home game in Tokyo and the return leg next Tuesday in Pyongyang.

"All the players are frustrated with how they performed at the Asian Cup," Moriyasu said.

"It is with that sense of frustration that they are here fighting as part of the national team.

"The frustration they felt at the Asian Cup made every single one of them hold themselves and their performance to even higher standards and move forward," he added.

Japan are in a strong position to reach the next round of qualifying for the 2026 World Cup after winning their opening games against Myanmar and Syria, both 5-0.

But they will be missing Brighton winger Kaoru Mitoma and Arsenal's Takehiro Tomiyasu, who are both injured, and Moriyasu said their absence is "a blow".

Japan will still be favourites against North Korea but Moriyasu is anticipating two tough tests.

"North Korea's players are all very competent as individuals, and as a team they can be very thorough about what they need to do," he warned.

"They are also a team who go all-out in displaying their fighting spirit."

North Korea are second in the group behind Japan after a 1-0 defeat to Syria and 6-1 thrashing of Myanmar.

The top two reach the next stage of qualifying.

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