Monday 08 November 2021, 13:00

Osako: We can feel the nation's expectations

  • Japan face challenging away Qatar 2022 qualifiers in Vietnam and Oman

  • Joint top-scorer Yuya Osako says they can't afford to lose any matches

  • Striker reflects on scoring a famous match-winner against Colombia at Russia 2018

Japan enter this month's double header in Asia's third round of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ seeking to put their campaign back on track having suffered two defeats in their opening four outings. Hajime Moriyasu's Samurai Blue opened their Group B campaign as favourites but with just two wins, they are now languishing in fourth place trailing behind front-runners Saudi Arabia, second-placed Australia, and also Oman on goal difference. Next up are a pair of away fixtures in Vietnam and Oman with the six-time FIFA World Cup campaigners desperately hoping to build momentum. "Right now the situation is that we cannot lose any more matches because we cannot afford it," Japan and Vissel Kobe forward Yuya Osako told "We feel the expectations of the country, so the only thing we think about is putting on good performances on the pitch." The 31-year-old striker is Japan's joint top-scorer in qualifying alongside Takumi Minamino with nine goals each. Notably, he came to the team's rescue by scoring the only goal against China PR as they bounced back following a shock opening 1-0 home loss to Oman. "It has been a difficult qualifying campaign so far," Osako said. "That match against China was difficult because we had just lost the opening match. It was important to score and get the three points, but there was still a lot for us to improve on. "There were other scenes in that match where I could have scored. If I am selected for further matches going forward I want to play my part to help the team secure important results."

Russia 2018 heroics

Few can question Osako's capability considering his eye-catching showings for Japan at Russia 2018. He figured prominently throughout their World Cup campaign, netting a famous match-winner in the opening 2-1 victory against Colombia - heroics from which he can still draw inspiration today. "The goal against Colombia is memorable for me," he said, reflecting on the last World Cup campaign. "That was the goal that restored our lead after Colombia had equalised. It ended up winning us the game, so I was filled with pure joy. At the same time, I knew the game was not over at that point, so we as a team were focused on closing the game out. "Scoring a goal at the World Cup was a dream I had ever since I was a child. It was great to realize a dream of mine, but there is a chance to do it again. In order to do that, I first have to perform well at club level." Indeed, Osako is among Japan's most successful overseas-based stars having spent the past seven seasons in the German Bundesliga plying his trade with the likes of 1860 Munich, FC Cologne and Werder Bremen. In August, however, he stunned even his own supporters by leaving for home to join J League side Vissel Kobe ending his illustrating European career. "I came to Kobe with the hope of once again playing as a forward," he said. "My desire to play up top, and the offer from Vissel Kobe, were a perfect match. What is most important in a transfer is timing. This time I think we found the optimal timing for both sides."

Qualifying hopes

After being dealt a second blow losing 1-0 in Saudi Arabia, Japan sprung back to life in the next outing registering a spirited 2-1 victory against Australia at home. But can Japan emulate their feat of four years ago when they reversed a disappointing start to storm all the way through to secure their World Cup qualification this time around? "It would be great if we can look back at the Australia match as the turning point,” said Osako. “What we did in that match were the absolute necessities, showing a fighting spirit, a fast switch between defence and attack, and each player running and giving maximum effort. Once you have those things then technique is what can take you one step further. "My expectations are to qualify for the World Cup. Each player has to prepare in his own way in order to get the results we need. There are no easy matches, so you need to play with the right attitude. If we stay committed we can achieve our goal."