Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic expects his side to learn how to cope better with pressure ahead of their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Iraq on Thursday night at Saitama Stadium.
Following their loss to UAE and win at Thailand in the opening round, the Samurai Blue are in third place in Group B with a key encounter against Asian Cup champions Australia awaiting them in Melbourne on Tuesday.
“There’s always a lot of pressure in the final qualifying round, and that should help the players focus on the match,” Halilhodzic told reporters. “You can’t just play well, you have to play fantastically.
“It’s the World Cup […] which has political and economic ramifications. If you have any ambition you need to be able to handle pressure. Nobody’s going to give us any presents. We have to hunt for wins in order to qualify.
“That sort of pressure doesn’t exist in Japan, for better or for worse. I’ve managed various teams, and there was 10 times as much pressure back then. I’ve explained the current situation to our players. If they play with feeling, their strength will emerge in tough situations.
“There are stronger opponents waiting for us. If we make it to the final tournament we’ll have three group stage matches watched by 100 million people, and the pressure will continue to mount.
“You don’t have to hide it; pressure is a good thing. It serves as motivation. Experienced players can control themselves in this sort of situation, but younger players may not be able to.
“They get caught up in the pressure.”