Saudi Arabia welcome Japan to the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium on Thursday evening for the third game of the World Cup 2022 Asian third qualifying round.
The hosts sit second in Group B, behind Australia only on goal difference, whilst their opponents have some work to do after a shock defeat in the opening game.
Saudi Arabia have had a perfect start to the latest stage of their qualifying campaign and have put themselves in a great early position to match their achievement of four years ago and qualify for the World Cup again.
The Green Falcons cruised through the second round, with draws against Yemen and Palestine being the only blemishes on their record, and have continued that form with back-to-back victories in the third round.
They started in style at home to Vietnam, overturning an early one-goal deficit to record a 3-1 win – aided by the visitors being reduced to 10 men – and followed that up with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Oman, who came into the game on the back of a shock victory over Japan.
The all-important goal came just before half time, courtesy of Saleh Al-Shehri, as the striker made it two in two matches.
Herve Renard’s side are now on a run of seven consecutive wins and will be determined to take points from the upcoming games against Japan and China to leave themselves well-placed as the midway stage of the group approaches
Japan will be at least as determined, however, after the aforementioned shock defeat to Oman left them in a position they would not have been expecting.
The Samurai Blue wasted plenty of opportunities, failing to take advantage of 65% of the possession, and were stunned by an 88th-minute strike from Issam Al Sabhi.
They were able to bounce back with a narrow 1-0 victory over rivals China in the next game – Japan once again dominated the game but could only convert the one chance, when Vissel Kobe forward Yuya Osako volleyed home just before half time.
It has been more than 27 years since Japan missed out on their first World Cup appearance in heartbreaking fashion, conceding a crucial goal in the 90th minute to Iraq, and they have been at every finals since.
If they are to keep up that record, they could really do with a win here to reduce the pressure heading into a crunch match against Australia next week.
Saudi Arabia World Cup Qualifying – Asia form:
Japan World Cup Qualifying – Asia form:
We say: Saudi Arabia 0-2 Japan
It may be Saudi Arabia who are currently higher up in the table, but we are backing Japan to overcome their tricky start and use the extra class in their squad to climb back above their opponents.
Renard’s team will make them work for it but we can see the final score being a fairly comfortable victory in the end, with top scorers Osako and Minamino likely to grab a goal or two.