March 27, 2017 / 11:44 AM / 10 months ago

UPDATE 1-Soccer-Halilhodzic urges Japan not to underestimate Thailand

(Adds Halilhodzic quotes and details)

March 27 (Reuters) - Japan manager Vahid Halilhodzic has urged his side not to rest on their laurels as they seek a third successive World Cup qualifying victory when they host Thailand at the Saitama Stadium on Tuesday.

Japan, who beat United Arab Emirates last week, are unbeaten in their last five qualifiers to sit second in Asian Group B, level on 13 points with leaders Saudi Arabia with four games remaining, while Thailand are bottom of the standings on just a single point.

The top two teams will qualify automatically for the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the home side are fully expected to pick up three points against an outclassed Thailand.

“A lot of people think they will be easy opponents for us, but I find them to be very difficult. We need to be careful. We must fight for a win and nothing else,” Halilhodzic told reporters on Monday.

”The future of all of Japanese football rests on our shoulders... I‘m not about to make a mistake and throw this opportunity away. If the players aren’t motivated, then something is wrong.

“The World Cup is on our doorstep now. We cannot miss this opportunity, we cannot underestimate Thailand.”

Despite Thailand conceding 15 goals so far, Japan midfielder Shinji Kagawa expects a tricky encounter and urged his side to adopt a patient approach.

”I don’t think they will be easy to break down at all,“ the 28-year-old Kagawa was quoted as saying by Kyodo news. ”We will need variety.

“During these World Cup qualifiers, we’ve struggled to open up teams who sit back on us. We need to be on the same wavelength when we’re trying to create opportunities for ourselves.”

Japan will be without injured trio midfielder Yasuyuki Konno, captain Makoto Hasebe and forward Yuya Osako for Tuesday’s match. (Reporting by Aditi Prakash in Bengaluru; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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