Soccer / World Cup

Upbeat Okubo lightens mood in Japan camp

by Gus Fielding


Over the initial shock of a 2-1 opening World Cup defeat to Cote d’Ivoire, Japan’s Samurai Blue have taken stock, chilled out and even been cracking jokes and laughing it off during a Jacuzzi bonding session.

Now Alberto Zaccheroni’s Asian champions are ready to go for broke against Greece on Thursday. A win for both teams is vital to their chances of progressing to the knockout stage, a feat only a handful of teams have managed after dropping their first game under the current tournament format.

“The mood in the team isn’t bad. There is no need to be down in the dumps,” striker Yoshito Okubo told Kyodo News on Tuesday at the team’s training camp in Itu.

“I’ve watched Greece, not only against Colombia, and these guys are big and strong. Well, they are all big to me,” joked the Kawasaki Frontale striker.

“They have great players up front. I’m not sure how they are going to come at us but we are going to have to be on our toes.”

Former European champions Greece also need three points having been condemned to a 3-0 defeat by Colombia in Belo Horizonte on Saturday.

“They (Greece) are going to try and get stuck right into us but I don’t think we have to go down that route. We have to try and be quick on our feet, move the ball around and get behind their defense. That’s the way to do it,” said Okubo.

Okubo’s chirpiness painted a stark contrast to the cloud of doom that had hung over the camp the day after a double whammy from Wilfried Bony and Gervinho gave the Ivorians a come-from-behind victory.

Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa said he had had a tormented sleepless night after the defeat, admitting pressure and nerves had got the better of him and that he had “lost a battle with himself” on his World Cup debut.

But Okubo, a member of the 2010 World Cup squad and a late inclusion this time around after his scintillating J. League form won Zaccheroni over, says even Kagawa has brightened up.

“He really was on a downer but he is fine now,” he said. “Yuto (Nagatomo) . . . a few of us had a bit of a chat in the Jacuzzi the other day. We talked about how the team played but had a bit of a laugh about how we were feeling.

“We told each other how rubbish we were but not to let it get to us. It’s good to finish things off with a laugh. There is nothing you can do about it and there are still two games left. It is important to regroup. You can’t dwell on things as it only brings a negative vibe to the team.”

Despite being one of Japan’s bright spots on Saturday, Maya Yoshida was in a slightly more serious mood as he spoke to reporters, stressing the need for Japan to score first against Greece.

“There were various (points in that game against Cote d’Ivoire) but I don’t think there is much point in talking about them now and I only have the Greece game on my mind,” the Southampton center back said.

“We are in a position where we can’t afford to lose. Greece are a solid defensive team so it is crucial that we get off to a good start. We can’t concede.

“If we take the lead then our opponents will have no option but to come right at us and if that is how it turns out then there is a good chance we can take control of the game.”

Asked why Japan was unable to make the necessary adjustments after falling behind against Cote d’Ivoire, Yoshida’s answer was short and simple.

“Because this is the World Cup,” he said. “We are not the only team that has lost. Spain have lost and so have Uruguay. This is a tournament where players with more experience than us are struggling.

“You could go on about why we didn’t do this or that but what’s the point? We are getting ready for a game the day after tomorrow so there needs to be more positivity.”

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