We're here for revenge, says Japan coach
In his first competitive match in charge of the Samurai Blue, a massive crowd of 57,533 turned up at the Saitama Stadium on June 16 expecting their nation to rack up the goals against Singapore.
However it turned out to be a forgettable night for Halilhodzic and his men as they were not only held to a goalless draw by the unfancied visitors, but also booed by their own supporters after the final whistle.
Five months on, the sides will face off again in the World Cup/Asian Cup Group E qualifiers and the Japanese coach emphasised the need for revenge at the pre-match press conference.
If the first goal comes early, it will be good for us
“The first game gives us very bad memories so it’ll be a revenge game for the players this time round,” said the Bosnian, who succeeded Javier Aguirre following the Samurai Blue’s failure to retain the Asian Cup in January.
“In football, the favourite cannot win before the game – that’s what happened to us in that game. We did everything we could, but we just couldn’t score.
“Now we have to show more determination in this upcoming game because it’ll be more difficult – Singapore are playing at home and will play for their people.
“Also we have a number of Europe-based players who may have issues with jet lag and the heat in Singapore. The local-based players are also tired because the domestic league in Japan just ended.
“But I believe we have the qualities to win the game and I will decide the starting line-up tomorrow.”
Understandably, Singapore are likely to adopt the same defensive approach with numbers behind the ball – something which worked to a treat in Saitama. Thus a wary Halilhodzic stopped short of promising an avalanche of goals from his side.
“Of course we want to score as many goals as possible, but the most important thing is to win,” said the 63-year-old, who coached Algeria at the 2014 World Cup.
“Often opponents play with blocks of nine or 10 players against us, which makes it very hard for us to score. That’s why I don’t want to put too much pressure on the players.
“If the first goal comes early, it will be good for us. If it doesn’t, we should not lose confidence as well.”
Japan have bounced back well since the shock 0-0 draw, walloping Cambodia 3-0, Afghanistan 6-0 and Syria 3-0 to sit second in Group E with 10 points from four matches.
They are now eyeing successive victories against Singapore and Cambodia, who they play in Phnom Penh on November 17.
Two wins would put Japan into a strong position for automatic qualification into the 2019 Asian Cup and progress into the third round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
“For us, our objective is to get two good results,” said Halilhodzic.
“We have to get as many points as possible and we’ll look forward to playing even stronger opponents in the next round.”