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On Monday, it was a more unusual outward journey for me to get set for this Socceroos away game. It is the 45th consecutive World Cup qualifier I have attended for our national team since early 2008.

Now my life is based in Thailand with a wonderful lifestyle, I took a six-hour flight from Bangkok into Tokyo’s Narita airport.

It is my fourth trip to the land of the rising sun, and the third straight away World Cup qualifier away game against the Samurai Blue since February 2009 in Yokohama.

Rather than staying in a hotel or guesthouse, I am enjoying the privilege of being hosted in a home situated in the suburb of Ikebukuro. This opportunity has come through friends Ian and Linda Olsen who are licensed breeders of Golden Retriever dogs in Sydney, and have supplied dogs to their Japanese client and friend, Kenichi. Ian is also a life-long football supporter and has travelled to Tokyo.

The international reputation of Japanese people for providing wonderful hospitality is well deserved. It is a remarkably safe, clean and well organised nation to travel around and enjoy a unique culture and environment. The diverse cuisine, landscapes, architecture, onsens, temples, shopping opportunities, art, historic and cultural traditions and attractions right across Japan provide must do experiences.

On Tuesday, with our marvellous host Kenichi as guide and driver, we visited the impressive Tokyo National Museum with special Buddhist and Samurai exhibitions. Next stop was the amazing new Ginza 6 building with highly innovative car parking for a superb traditional lunch, then coffee and food shopping for a home cooked evening meal.

After a leisurely morning on Wednesday, the afternoon saw some rain showers and more sightseeing before another gastronomic experience in one the many high-quality local restaurants.

The big game

A sell-out crowd with scalpers already offering tickets for equivalent of well over AUD$400 each is an indication of the enormous interest of fans to be part of an historic night of football on Thursday night.

Well over 2,500 Aussies will be on the terraces of the away section at Saitama Stadium with a capacity of around 62,000. Disappointingly it is likely that some away fans could miss out on the opportunity to support the Socceroos, with the Japan FA struggling to cope with unprecedented demand for tickets.

With so much hanging on the result, it is not surprising that Australian supporters have had very limited opportunities to interact or see the squad in their lead-up preparations at their training base in Nishigaoka. Quite clearly, there must be no distractions to the preparation of the Socceroos as they aim to get three points to assure qualification for Russia 2018.

Other than the absence of regular captain Mile Jedinak, and back-up keeper Mitch Langerak being excused from duty to sort out an impending club transfer, this will be an almost full-strength Socceroos squad. There is much speculation about the starting eleven, especially in midfield.

Australia’s pressing game was highly effective against Chile at the recent Confederations Cup, and one of the trio from Aaron Mooy, Massimo Luongo and Tom Rogic could miss out from starting in this fixture. Ange has other options with Jackson Irvine, James Troisi and Robbie Kruse all vying for game time.

Mark Milligan seems likely to take the defensive midfield role, with Tom Juric up front and Matthew Leckie playing just behind in a wide attacking role.

Matthew Spiranovic back into full fitness could well re-establish his partnership with Trent Sainsbury in central defence, if a back four formation returns. On the left, Brad Smith may get the nod over Alex Gersbach, while the right side will probably be either Ryan McGowan or Milos Degenek.

Mat Ryan now playing for Brighton in the EPL almost certainly will, once again, take the gloves in goal.

History shows that any match with our fiercest rivals in Asian football will be a tight contest, so I expect something similar tomorrow evening at 7.35pm local time (8.35pm AEST).

It is still baffling why so many in Japan (players, fans, officials and media) continue to focus on the physicality of Socceroos as their main strength; indeed it has almost become an unhealthy ‘hang up’.

There is risk for the Samurai Blue if they concentrate too much on trying to counter the perceived physicality. A reality beyond the stereotyping is that the philosophy of this new generation of Socceroos is for playing stylish possession-based and attacking football on park.

Although the weather is very warm and humid here in Tokyo, the win over UAE in Abu Dhabi last September in more extreme conditions shows that our squad can readily adapt and overcome such challenges.

UAE did both teams a big favour with their surprise win last night over Saudi Arabia. I am quietly confident of a Socceroos victory, although pragmatically a point would be more than satisfactory with our final game at home next Tuesday in Melbourne versus Thailand.

The main pre-game venue for fans on match day co-ordinated by Socceroos Active Support (SAS) will be from 2pm at the British Pub Hub Yotsuya in Shinjuku. I have chosen instead to have a lower key build-up in the precinct near the stadium with a marvellous pedestrian-only avenue and outdoor pop-up food and drinks outlets.

There is no doubt that the home crowd including the famous ‘Ultra Nippon’ hard core fans will be a significant asset for their national team. However, I am sure the Australian supporters section will sing their hearts out and help to lift the Socceroos to a good result.

Here’s to an Australian victory on the #RoadtoRussia 2018!


Categories: News | Socceroos | Football Life

socceroos, world cup qualifier, #roadtorussia, #jpnvaus

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