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Yoshida excited to face Cote d’Ivoire in opener

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Southampton defender Maya Yoshida is hoping he can draw on the experience of having faced some of Cote d’Ivoire’s big guns at club level as he prepares for the biggest game of his career in Japan’s opener at the World Cup finals on Saturday.

Yoshida has had mixed fortunes against the likes of Roma striker Gervinho and Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure but is well aware that he must be completely switched on for 90 minutes in the Group C clash in Recife.

Gervinho scored twice with former club Arsenal as the Gunners hammered Southampton 6-1 in Yoshida’s debut for the Saints when he came on as a first-half substitute in their Premier League match in September 2012.

“I played against Gervinho on my debut at Emirates Stadium and one of his goals was from my mistake,” Yoshida said with a wry smile after Thursday’s training session, Japan’s last at its camp in Itu before it moves to Recife on Friday.

“I’ve played against Toure as well but we won that time and know (Wilfried) Bony from Vitesse Arnhem and Swansea City.”

Toure underwent surgery to correct an unspecified problem in Qatar last month and is in a race to be fit for Saturday’s game, but Yoshida believes he will be involved at some point.

“I have watched a couple of (Cote d’Ivoire’s) games and I think Toure will play, so for 90 minutes we have to concentrate. Toure told me he thought it would be a difficult game against Japan, but I said to him ‘I don’t think you really think that.’ “

Yoshida, who earned a dream Premier League move to Southampton after captaining Japan to the last four of the London Olympics, said he was expecting a direct game, if Galatasaray striker Didier Drogba and Bony are involved.

“If Drogba plays I think it will be more direct football and they will play a lot of long balls, but on the other hand Bony plays the same way and is physically strong, so we have to think about picking up the second balls,” he said.

Yoshida did not figure much for Southampton this past campaign and his season was cut short after suffering a knee injury in March.

But the 25-year-old says he does not feel any extra pressure to perform at the World Cup to win a regular place back at his club, since Southampton has yet to appoint a coach to replace Mauricio Pochettino, who joined Tottenham last month.

“This is the biggest game of my career, and for other players in the team too, and I am not thinking about Southampton at the moment,” Yoshida told Kyodo News.

“The new manager has not been decided on so on the contrary that will allow me to focus on the World Cup.”