Soccer / World Cup

Japan holds first practice since arriving at pre-World Cup camp


The Japan national team on Sunday held its first training session since arriving in the Austrian resort city of Innsbruck, where the Samurai Blue are preparing for the World Cup starting June 14 in Russia.

The entire Japan squad, including Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa and Pachuca playmaker Keisuke Honda, took part in the session at a ground in Seefeld, on the outskirts of the alpine city in western Austria.

With temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius, they worked up a sweat performing core-strengthening, running and ball-skills exercises during the roughly two-hour session, which was attended by some 200 people including pupils from Japanese schools in Vienna and Munich.

Squad members also played a mini game, lining up with the back-three formation that head coach Akira Nishino experimented with in Japan’s final World Cup warmup on home soil, a 2-0 loss to Ghana at Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium last Wednesday.

Following the Ghana match, Nishino, who took the reins after the sudden firing of his predecessor Vahid Halilhodzic, said the back three was just one of the formations he was considering for the World Cup.

Japan’s players and staff are staying at a resort hotel five minutes’ drive from the training ground, which is nestled among mountains.

Asked about the location of the camp, squad members spoke highly of the quiet, picturesque surroundings.

“When I open the window in the morning, there’s amazing scenery outside,” Galatasaray defender Yuto Nagatomo said. “It’s very relaxing.”

Kagawa, who returned to the Dortmund lineup late in the Bundesliga season after missing two months with an ankle injury, said, “Here, I can just concentrate on soccer.”

The hotel has billiard and table tennis tables, as well as a gym and swimming pool, with the players being encouraged to mingle and strengthen their chemistry on and off the field ahead of the tournament.

“It’s important that players make the most of the opportunity to spend time together, rather than staying in their rooms by themselves,” Urawa Reds center back Tomoaki Makino said.

Japan will play a friendly against Switzerland across the border in the Swiss city of Lugano on Friday, before facing Paraguay in its final World Cup warmup on June 12 in Innsbruck.

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