Soccer / World Cup

Veteran goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima says Japan still haunted by 2014 loss to Colombia

by Sean Miyaguchi

Kyodo

As Japan and Colombia prepare to go into battle at the World Cup again, the Samurai Blue remain haunted by memories of their clash with the South Americans at the previous tournament, goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima said Friday.

On that day four years ago in the Brazilian city of Cuiaba, Colombia ran out 4-1 winners, destroying Japan’s hopes of advancing from Group C in the process.

With Japan down only one goal and searching for an equalizer, emerging superstar James Rodriguez scored once and created another for Jackson Martinez in the final eight minutes to put the result beyond doubt and make an indelible impression on soccer fans around the world.

Four years later, Metz custodian Kawashima is determined to achieve a better result when the two countries meet in their opening Group H clash in Saransk on Tuesday.

“We’ve been suffering for the past four years because of (the match in) 2014,” Kawashima said. “This time, we have to show ourselves that we can (achieve) something better.”

Along with Rodriguez, all-time Colombian record scorer Radamel Falcao will be trying to ensure La Tricolor sink the Samurai Blue for the second tournament running.

The 32-year-old Monaco forward is a force Kawashima knows well, as one of the top scorers in the French first division where the goalkeeper plies his trade.

Add the likes of Juventus winger Juan Cuadrado and midfielder Carlos Sanchez, currently with Espanyol on loan from Fiorentina, and the Colombian side looks set to pose a major challenge to Japan’s hopes of advancing past the group stage for the first time since 2010.

“Obviously they have a lot of talent. They’ve got a scorer (Falcao), they’ve got a passer (Rodriguez). We’ll try to be well organized and try to reduce their space,” Kawashima said.

At 35 years and 86 days at the start of the tournament, Kawashima became Japan’s oldest World Cup representative. With 84 international caps, he made his World Cup debut at the 2010 tournament in South Africa, when Japan exceeded expectations by advancing to the round of 16.

With most analysts giving Japan a slim chance of advancing from the group this time around, the goalkeeper hopes to once again defy the odds in what is almost certainly his final World Cup.

To do so, the Samurai Blue will have to tighten up their defense. Kawashima said he must personally make improvements, after allowing two goals apiece in Japan’s recent friendlies against Ghana and Switzerland, both 2-0 losses.

“I’m not satisfied with my own performances. (But) I have time to prepare,” Kawashima said.

With four days until their World Cup campaign kicks off, the preparation time for the Samurai Blue is ticking away.