KAZAN, RUSSIA – Despite Japan’s surprise 2-1 win over Colombia fueling predictions of a knockout-stage berth, members of the Samurai Blue squad were keeping a lid on expectations Thursday ahead of their upcoming match against Senegal.
Prior to its victory Tuesday over a 10-man La Tricolor side in Saransk, Japan was widely tipped to finish last in Group H, but bookmakers now have the resurgent four-time Asian champion as second favorite to top the group behind Senegal.
The win at Mordovia Arena may have lifted the mood within the camp, but the players were not letting it affect their approach to Sunday’s showdown with the joint group leader in Yekaterinburg, midfielder Genki Haraguchi said.
“(Beating Colombia) hasn’t changed how we see things,” Haraguchi said. “We can only look to the next game.
“(Reaching the knockout stage) isn’t something we can think about,” added the 27-year-old, who earlier this month joined Bundesliga side Hannover on a three-year deal.
With the squad having had less than two months to prepare for the tournament under new coach Akira Nishino, defense had been the priority, but the Colombia game showed the team’s attacking play was beginning to take shape, Haraguchi said.
“Of course, we had to start by building the base, which is defense. But with that base in place, our ability to attack and respond to different situations is increasing,” he said.
The former Hertha Berlin and Fortuna Dusseldorf player said the team had received detailed feedback of its performance on Tuesday, including distances run and passes completed, in order to help identify areas for improvement.
“It is an important part of the process, since it is directly related to the result,” he said. “But overall, the most important analysis is that the 11 of us got three points.”
Before their afternoon training session Thursday, the team received a visit from Princess Hisako, honorary patron of the Japan Football Association. The princess spoke with squad members and posed for a photo with the senior national side, as well as the Japan under-19 players currently attending the camp.
Members of the Japan squad who saw significant playing time against Colombia continued to undertake a lighter training workload Thursday at the headquarters of Russian first-division side Rubin Kazan.
Keisuke Honda, who helped seal the victory as a 69th-minute substitute, trained separately after suffering a bruised right thigh during the match and is being monitored, a team spokesman said.
The Pachuca playmaker, however, did not outwardly show any ill effects as he jogged around the Rubin Kazan practice pitch alongside a member of the team training staff.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5