Japan our biggest rivals

AUSTRALIAN enforcer Vince Grella rates the World Cup qualifying battle with Japan tomorrow night the latest instalment of the Socceroos' biggest rivalry in Asia.

Yet again Australia plays Japan in a soccer match of high stakes and significance - the Socceroos a perfect three-from-three and two points clear of Japan in their World Cup qualifying group going into the clash in Yokohama.

Victory for the Socceroos will mean near certain quali-fication for next year's World Cup finals as one of the top two teams in Group One - a sizeable points gulf between Australia and Japan, and probably the sack for Japanese manager Takeshi Okada.

But defeat for Australia will pull the current group leaders back to the pack, and lift Japan's hopes of automatic qualification.

Grella was at the centre of the fireworks last time the two sides met - sent off for flattening Japan's Naohiro Takahara in the Socceroos' Asian Cup quarter-final loss in 2007 in Hanoi.

Australia upstaged Japan at the World Cup finals the previous year, scoring three times at the death to beat the Blue Samurai as they went on to round of 16 glory in Germany and Japan went home empty-handed.

Not surprisingly, the media hype in Japan surrounding the clash of Asia's two top-ranked sides is growing - especially as Okada recently declared Japan's aim was to make the semi-finals of the next World Cup.

Okada, under pressure following a shock Asian Cup qualifier loss to Bahrain last month, has ordered a security blitz to keep would-be Australian spies out of Japan's training sessions.

“It's started to become a big game in Asia, and we like that, and I think they like it as well,” Grella said.

“We beat them at the World Cup but lost to them at the Asian Cup. It's slowly become a heated game, a bit of rivalry there.”

Sixteen of the 22-man Socceroos squad have arrived in Yokohama, with the Australians having their first training session yesterday.

It was one of no more than three sessions for Australia ahead of the match at the 70,000-capacity stadium.

Lucas Neill, Mark Bresciano and Mile Jedinak will be the final three players into camp late this morning.

Meanwhile, Adelaide United's preparations for their A-League major semi-final second leg have been thrown a curve ball with goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic rushed into the Socceroos squad.

Galekovic will replace back-up goalkeeper Adam Federici, injured playing for his English side Reading.



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