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Tokyo’s Morishige too focused to dream of World Cup

by Andrew Mckirdy

Staff Writer

FC Tokyo defender Masato Morishige insists he has no time to dream of World Cup glory with the capital-city club still adapting to life under new manager Massimo Ficcadenti.

Morishige has been tipped for a place in Japan’s squad for Brazil this summer after forcing his way into Alberto Zaccheroni’s plans at the East Asian Cup last year, but the 26-year-old has enough on his mind before the national team manager unveils his selection on May 12.

Tokyo has undergone a revival in recent weeks with four wins from its last five J. League games after making a slow start to the season under Italian Ficcadenti, and Morishige is keen to keep the momentum going against Nagoya Grampus at National Stadium on Tuesday.

“We had a good win against Cerezo Osaka recently so our next games are very important,” Morishige said before Tokyo’s 1-0 win over Yokohama F. Marinos on Saturday. “We’re about to play back-to-back games so hopefully we can go into both with the right energy.

“We had to deal with a lot of new things at the start of the season and we were still getting used to them. Of course it takes time to get used to new things but we know we are getting better with each game. We were able to play the kind of football we are striving for to some degree against Cerezo.”

But while Tokyo’s J. League schedule keeps Morishige busy for now, the center back could be forgiven for having one eye on events a couple of weeks down the line.

Morishige made his full national team debut at last July’s East Asian Cup — 4½ years after his previous callup — and the 183-cm, 76-kg Hiroshima native has gone from strength to strength to make his place in the World Cup squad seem a foregone conclusion.

“I hadn’t been called up to the national team for 4½ years and of course during that time I looked at what I could do to improve as a player,” said Morishige, who now has seven caps. “I looked at the East Asian Cup as my last chance, and I wanted to make sure I grabbed it.

“I won’t know until the squad is announced. I just want to show what I can do against Nagoya and then in the other J. League games that follow.”

Morishige’s emergence has been timely for Zaccheroni, with long-established center back Maya Yoshida suffering a knee injury in March and not certain to return to peak condition by the time Japan kicks off its World Cup campaign against Cote d’Ivoire on June 14.

Japan has conceded 32 goals in 17 games over the past year to leave question marks over the team’s defensive capabilities, and Morishige knows he and his teammates will have to shape up fast.

“Defense was originally the national team’s strong point under Zaccheroni, and the fact that has not been the case recently is down to individual mistakes and lapses in concentration,” said Morishige, who played in all three of Japan’s games at the 2008 Olympics. “We’ve been conceding more goals so we all have to go back and take a look at our jobs defending the goal.

“The individual qualities of each player will be very important but we have to stand firm in the way we defend as a team. On top of that, we all have to raise our individual level.”

Morishige will have to face strikers of the caliber of Colombia’s Radamel Falcao, Cote d’Ivoire’s Didier Drogba and Greece’s Kostas Mitroglou if he sees action in Brazil, but Tokyo goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda believes his teammate can cope.

“I’m looking forward to seeing it,” said Gonda, who is also hoping to make the squad. “I don’t know how he would approach taking on the world’s best forwards, but I’d love to see it.

“I know him well because we both play for the same club, and I would have to say that in one-against-one situations, he’s the best defender in the J. League.”

Until Zaccheroni names his squad, Morishige will be happy to continue in the form that has helped Tokyo concede no more than three goals in its last five games. Chances to impress are fast running out, and Morishige is determined to make each game count.

“You have to remember how important each game in the J. League is before the squad is announced,” he said. “If you do that then the results will follow. If you want to play for the national team at the World Cup then you have the responsibility to maintain your concentration right until the end.”