Oman to rely on home advantage


READY FOR THE BATTLE: National coach Paul Le Guen interacting with the media at the Grand Hyatt yesterday as Oman skipper Ali Al Habsi looks on. Pic: Jun Estrada / TIMES OF OMAN

Muscat: Finally the stage is set for the all-important 2014 World Cup qualifying match between host Oman and Japan to be played at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex (SQSC) in Baushar today.

Fresh from the Group B victory against Jordan last month, the Paul Le Guen coached hosts are looking to continue with their prime form at home, while Japan are hoping to move within the touching distance of making their fifth consecutive World Cup appearance after claiming 10 points from their first four games, which has now moved them five points clear at the halfway mark.

"We are ready to face Japan and we hope to win this as well," said the shrewd Frenchman, who has guided Oman well so far.

Back in contention

In their previous encounter in Tokyo early in June, Japan beat Oman 3-0 in front of a full-capacity crowd of 60,000 but that is now a forgotten chapter for the Red Warriors who stunningly returned back to form ever since that defeat.

They drew the mighty Australians at home and Iraq in Doha while they beat Jordan to move-up third in the rankings.

Le Guen is hoping once again to utilise the home advantage which boosted the side during the Jordan clash.

The iconic SQSC saw 26,500 record audience watching the match.
"We expect the stadium to be filled to capacity once again," said Le Guen speaking at a packed media conference at Grand Hyatt Hotel yesterday.

While the match time of 3.30pm is a "concern" for the Asia champions, Oman has already prepared its squad with the conditions after a friendly against Estonia at the same venue last week.

"I think playing in the mid-afternoon is a tough job but my boys are ready for it," Le Guen said. "Big blow We all know about Japan's reputation. They are a great football nation and they are in great form as well. So we have to be realistic in our approach," said Le Guen.

Injury is a worry for both the sides. While Oman will miss Mohammed Sheeba Al Balushi, the talented defender Saad Suhail Al Mukhaini will also not feature due to disciplinary reasons.

Japan, however, is not worried about the absence of their injured Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa who scored the late winner against France in a friendly last month.

"We will certainly miss Sheeba and Saad. It is a big blow to us. We never wanted to miss them in a key clash such as this," Le Guen said.

Habsi to play

Omani skipper and Wigan international Ali Al Habsi who picked-up a shoulder injury during a Premier League match recently confirmed his participation. "I will play come whatever happens. I have had a good training here and my shoulder has responded well.

"You know the most important part is playing for your country and nothing matters to me other than that," said Al Habsi.

While the Blue Samurai have never lost in their seven World Cup qualifiers against Oman and are expecting an eight point lead to plan for their World Cup, the Red Warriors are hoping for a turn-around that could possibly take them ahead of Australia.

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