SAAS-FEE, Switzerland – Japan coach Takeshi Okada on Thursday sought to play down the significance of his team’s last World Cup warmup against Cote d’Ivoire and said his players would not be going beyond the call of duty and risking injury on the eve of their departure for the finals.
Okada has arranged for an extra 45 minutes against the Africans after Friday’s match in Sion so he can cast an eye over the entire squad in what will serve as a test run for Japan’s World Cup opener against Cameroon in Bloemfontein on June 14.
Japan, which also faces the Netherlands and Denmark in a tricky Group E in South Africa, has lost four of its last five games, the latest a 2-1 reverse against England, and is badly in need of a positive result before leaving for South Africa on Saturday.
“I have never thought it is OK to lose a game of football, but at the end of the day our main objective is to win matches at the World Cup,” Okada told a news conference. “We don’t want players getting injured just for the sake of winning this game.”
Okada said he was pleased with the way his players have reacted to their recent defeat to South Korea and jelled since the team’s altitude training camp in the Alpine village of Saas-Fee got under way on May 26.
“Obviously it is easy for inertia to set in during long camps like this, but the players are really communicating well with each other and the mood in the squad is not bad at all. The team has really come together since the defeat to South Korea and I am grateful for that.”
Okada hinted that the team that starts against Cote d’Ivoire will be lining up in Japan’s World Cup opener against Cameroon.
His place in the starting lineup at the World Cup in doubt, former Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura has been putting in overtime on the training ground and is likely to be involved against Cote d’Ivoire, having shaken off a left ankle injury.