January 27, 2009: Although these Asian Cup qualifiers appear to be a nuisance so early in the year, they should prove to be good preparation for Japan's World Cup qualifier at home to Australia on February 11.
First of all they are keeping the players sharp and focussed in the close-season, not just in terms of physical fitness but in match fitness due to the competitive nature of the Asian Cup.
Secondly, manager Takeshi Okada can use these games to try different combinations and give his fringe players more international experience.
After the Yemen and Bahrain games, Japan still have to play Finland at home on February 4, but this is a friendly so expect multiple substitutions in the second half. Usually, after an hour or so, this type of match becomes meaningless as it loses all rhythm and teams lose their cohesion with so many changes in personnel.
In fact, with today's busy calendar at club and international level, I am all in favour of Arsene Wenger's idea to scrap friendlies altogether, as they serve little if any purpose while only causing problems for clubs and players.
Looking ahead to the Aussie game at Yokohama, Pim Verbeek has already stoked the fire by saying there is more pressure on Japan to win than there is on Australia. Not only are Japan two points behind Australia after three games, they are playing at home and the onus is on them to dominate the game and pick up maximum points, he reasons.
Verbeek, who knows Japanese football well, insists Australia will try to win -- but adds, quite calmly, that they don't have to win.
He also said he thought the Uzbekistan away game would be a bigger test than Japan away -- so he must be feeling confident coming to Japan after collecting all three points from a 1-0 victory at the Pakhtakor Stadium.
Personally, I don't feel Japan must win this Australia game.
It would be better if they did, of course, but a draw would be a decent result for both teams and keep them out in front.
Japan still have Bahrain and Qatar to play at home, having beaten them both away, so would remain on course for South Africa if they reached the halfway point of qualifying with eight points from four games, and still unbeaten.
As for Australia away in Japan's last game on June 17? Both teams will be through by then, so expect a party...