With Oman heading into one of its most important home games in the 2014 FIFA World Cup final round qualifiers on Wednesday, captain Ali al Habsi has admitted that his players will have to 'play the match of their lives' against formidable Japan at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex.
The good news for Oman though is that Habsi has declared himself fit for the Asian round Group B game that kicks off at 3.30pm. At the pre-match press conference on Tuesday, the Wigan goalkeeper shrugged off reports of a shoulder injury that he had suffered while warming up for a Premier League game last Saturday.
“I am under no illusion about how tough the match against Japan will be, but I believe the whole team is ready for the game,” said Habsi. “We will have to play the match of our lives, if we are to keep our hopes of World Cup qualification alive.
"We are ready. But everyone knows how tough a game this is, and how difficult our opponent is. Japan are the Asian champions. They are high up on FIFA's rankings, 13 of their players are based in Europe.”
Japan is currently ranked 24th in the world to Oman's 86 and had beaten the sultanate side 3-0 at home in Saitama during the first match of the current round of qualifiers in June. But this time, Habsi said that his team would draw strength from the home advantage that it enjoys.
"The fact that we will be playing in front of our fans will have a positive effect on us,” he said. “I believe all our games at home are tough for our rival teams. We haven't lost any of our home games for a while. But it is going to be a tough test that requires a lot of hard work and patience.”
Oman's coach Paul Le Guen believes, however, that his team has the potential to spring a surprise on Wednesday. “The players are very motivated as they take on one of the world's top teams at home,” he said. “It's amazing to play against Japan in a packed stadium, and I believe it's possible to win.”
Japan's coach Alberto Zaccheroni, however, struck a cautious note, even through his team is virtually through to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil if it wins on Wednesday. “Oman is a very strong team at home,” he said. “It will be a tough game for us.”
Japan is leading Group B with ten points, followed by Australia at second spot with five points and Oman third with the same tally - Australia is placed ahead on goal difference. Jordan with four points and Iraq with two bring up the rear. Oman has three more qualifiers to play after the Japan game.
The top two teams in each group will qualify directly for the World Cup while the teams that finish third in each group will enter another play-off to determine who will face the fifth-placed South American qualifier for a ticket to Brazil.