MANAMA: Soccer fever gripped the tiny Gulf kingdom of Bahrain as Japan arrived in the capital city on Wednesday evening for a crucial Group B 2006 World Cup qualifier showdown set for today.
The match at the National Stadium is billed as a “now-or-never” affair for Bahrain as a victory can take them closer to fulfilling their long-cherished dream of playing in the World Cup Finals.
The match is equally vital for Asian champions Japan as a defeat can virtually destroy their chances of booking one of the two automatic berths for next year’s World Cup from this group.
Given the importance of the match and high expectations by their unforgiving fans, rival coaches Zico of Japan and Wolfgang Sidka of Bahrain were understandably cautious in their predictions ahead of the key clash.
“It comes down to technique, fitness and the ability to handle pressure,” said the 50-year-old Sidka, the former Werder Bremen coach, who is presently on loan to Bahrain from Qatar’s Al Arabi Club.
“If we cannot keep the pressure behind us, then we don’t deserve to win the game. Everybody wants to be there on the world stage but they don’t just give away spots.”
Zico played down his team’s lack of goals aspect.
“The Kirin Cup was a friendly tournament, but what we have ahead are three World Cup qualifiers,” said the 51-year-old before arriving in Manama.
“The Bahrain match is critical for us to keep our World Cup hopes alive.”
Japan will be boosted by the inclusion of Italian league players Hidetoshi Nakata, Shunsuke Nakamura and Atsushi Yanagisawa and French side Marseille’s Koji Nakata. – AFP