“We have to be prepared because it is expected to be a tough fight.”

Japan’s national soccer midfielder Tanaka Ao expected a tough match ahead of the away match in North Korea.

The Japanese national soccer team, led by head coach Hajime Moriyasu, is set to play a home match against North Korea in the third round of Group B of the second Asian qualifying round for the 2026 FIFA North-Central America World Cup at 7:23 p.m. on the 21st at Tokyo National Stadium, before a fourth-round away match against North Korea at Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang at 5 p.m. on the 26th.

It is the first time for Japan to go to North Korea since the Asian qualifying round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. The Japanese national soccer team, led by head coach Alberto Zaccheroni, lost 0-1 despite the assessment that it had an advantage in terms of performance and capability, due to unilateral booing by North Korean fans and combative attitude of North Korean players. This is why Japanese media are very concerned about the upcoming match against North Korea.

Tanaka, who was eliminated from the final entry of the 2023 AFC Qatar Asian Cup, seems determined ahead of the match against North Korea. According to Japanese media , he said, “I expect a hard fight and I know that I couldn’t win the away game. So I have to be determined.”

“Since we have won two consecutive games in the second qualifying round so far, if we win back-to-back games against North Korea, we can decide our advance to the final qualifying round. So I think we can win our first home game first,” he said, expressing his desire to win all of his matches against North Korea.

Tanaka, meanwhile, expressed caution about his failure to enter the Asian Cup. “I watched the match. But I have nothing to say in person. As a person who was not on the pitch, there are things I don’t know,” Tanaka said in his review of the Japanese national soccer team during the Asian Cup, which was as chaotic as Korea’s.

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