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Japan resets after avenging ’14 loss

by Sean Miyaguchi

Kyodo

For veterans of Japan’s 2014 World Cup campaign, avenging a painful loss at that tournament to Colombia was cause for only momentary celebration, goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima said Wednesday.

In the buildup to the rematch between the two sides in Saransk on Tuesday, the 35-year-old custodian conceded Japan’s 4-1 loss to Colombia in the Brazilian city of Cuiaba had left him and his teammates “suffering for the past four years.”

Japan’s 2-1 victory over the South Americans at Mordovia Arena went some way toward overcoming the tournament-ending, group-stage loss in Brazil, but the squad has since turned its attention to the upcoming match against Group H opponent Senegal, Kawashima said.

“I think the clock has restarted now. Now we are feeling much better, but now we have to focus on our other games,” the multilingual Kawashima said.

The ‘keeper for French first-division side Metz nevertheless conceded that the victory had special meaning for the players who had lined up against La Tricolors four years ago in Brazil.

“I think (it does),” he said. “Even the players who weren’t there last time remember the last match against Colombia in Brazil. I think this victory, we feel really good, really satisfied, but yesterday was yesterday, now tomorrow is (our focus).”

On Sunday in Yekaterinburg, Japan will face a Senegal side brimming with confidence following a 2-1 victory over a Poland team that many experts predicted would emerge as the winner of the group.

The Africans boast a number of offensive talents, including Liverpool star Sadio Mane, and against eighth-ranked Poland showed they are capable of troubling any team at the tournament.

Kawashima credited Japan head coach Akira Nishino — who took the reins just two months before the World Cup, following the firing of predecessor Vahid Halilhodzic— with bringing stability to the squad in time for the tournament.

“The coach didn’t have so much time to prepare for these three games. I think he’s tried to find the best selection for this group,” Kawashima said.

With the Japan Football Association purportedly firing Halilhodzic over a breakdown in dialogue between coach and players, Kawashima emphasized that communication with the squad was one of Nishino’s key strengths.

“It’s important now, with the coach, with the players, that we have good communication going on,” Kawashima said. “I think (Nishino) had to make really tough decisions, it’s a big responsibility.”

World No. 27 Senegal and 61st-ranked Japan are joint leaders of Group H with identical points and goal difference. A win Sunday at Ekaterinburg Arena would almost certainly secure a knockout-stage berth for the victor.

Japan will then have a four-day turnaround before its final group stage game against Poland in Volgograd on June 28.