SALVADOR, BRAZIL – While its fortunes hinge on how Colombia fares against Nigeria, Japan is still poised to turn in its best performance of the Rio Olympic Games against Sweden on Wednesday.
“In the first game, we were uptight especially in defense,” Japan coach Makoto Teguramori said. “We managed to score twice in the second game, and we were resilient.”
“I think the players have finally gotten used to things at the competition. Given our condition at the moment, I’m convinced we can take the ball off them when we need to. I think what we need to worry about is what to do when they let us have possession.”
“We have to be aggressive getting forward. We need our first win on the world stage, and hopefully it will take us to the knockout phase.”
Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Colombia in Manaus barely kept Japan’s second-round hopes alive. With Nigeria already through as the winner of Group B, Teguramori’s side must pray that Colombia does not win; if Colombia wins, Japan is automatically out.
Should Colombia draw, victory will secure Japan’s passage to the quarterfinals. If Colombia loses, a draw might be good enough for Japan to go through with qualification among the three teams coming down to goal difference or total goals scored.
The Japanese camp expects Sweden, which is last in the group and must win on Wednesday to advance to the knockout phase, to play to its size, and will be armed and ready for it.
“Their size is something we have to watch out for,” Teguramori said. “We cannot give away set pieces when we defend. We have to use our pace to our advantage.”
Added Arsenal forward Takuma Asano, who has scored in each of Japan’s first two games, “There’s not too much point in trying to beat a team that has the height advantage in the air.
“If we play the way we’re capable of playing, we have more than a good chance against them. I thought we played well the last game, but we couldn’t produce the result we wanted to.”
“But nobody on our team is down about where we stand, we’re still upbeat and putting in the work we should be. I still haven’t scored the decisive goal here yet. I’ll prepare as well as I can for tomorrow.”
He added: “We have nothing to lose. We just have to stop worrying about this and that and if we do what we have to do, the result will be there in the end. I know there is someone watching us from above, and we need to give it 120 percent.”
Asano bruised his right heel in the Colombia game, but the knock will not affect his availability against Sweden. And as if Japan needed another challenge, Takumi Minamino twisted his right ankle getting off the bus after training on Monday, the severity of the injury remains to be seen, but the Salzburg midfielder will definitely suit up for the Sweden game.
Teguramori, more than anything, wants the win for his players, who have done everything the manager has asked of them since he took over after the London Olympics.
“We’ve managed to hang on to our hopes by a thread, which underlines the resilience of this team,” Teguramori said. “I’d love nothing more than to see them rewarded in the third game for all their effort. I believe we’re becoming a better team with each game. We still want to play a few more games here.”