CLEARWATER, FLORIDA – Southampton central defender Maya Yoshida admits he is excited by the prospect of Japan playing England in the second round of the World Cup finals, but reckons Roy Hodgson’s men could find it difficult to progress from the group phase.
Japan has been drawn in Group C against Cote d’Ivoire, Greece and Colombia. The winners and runnersup of that group play the second and first-place teams, respectively, from England’s Group E, which also features Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica.
Japan was overpowered 4-2 by Uruguay in a friendly in Miyagi last August, a couple of months after it lost 4-3 to Italy at the Confederations Cup. The Asian champions have not played England since 2010, when they lost 2-1 in a friendly just before the South Africa World Cup.
Speaking to Kyodo News ahead of Japan’s World Cup warmup against Costa Rica in Tampa on Monday night, Yoshida said, “Whether it is England or Uruguay or Italy we face, it is going to be a tough game.
“We’ve lost to all the teams (Italy and Uruguay) except England (in recent matches) and I would love it if we were to play England.
“In England, you don’t hear many people talking up their chances of winning the title and I think that is realistic. I reckon their minds will be focused first and foremost about getting out of their group and taking it from there, but I think a lot will depend on Italy.”
Yoshida, who joined Southampton after captaining Japan to the semifinals of the 2012 London Olympics, is lacking match fitness, having only recently returned to action from a knee injury that cut short his season.
But the 25-year-old says he is making good progress on the road back to fitness and came on in the second half of Tuesday’s 1-0 win at home to Cyprus.
Yoshida said he is hoping to get more minutes under his belt against Costa Rica and then against Zambia here on Friday.
“I am at about 70 percent condition-wise,” said Yoshida. “Obviously, it is up to the coach who he picks, but I am hoping to play in both games.
“It is good to now be playing a high-level team like Costa Rica before we go the World Cup because it prepares you well physically and mentally. We won’t be able to get away with mistakes like we did against Cyprus.”