EKATERINBURG, RUSSIA – While a draw against Senegal would take Japan a step closer to the World Cup round of 16, nothing less than a win will be good enough against the joint group leaders, the Samurai Blue’s man of the moment Yuya Osako said Saturday.
On the eve of their showdown with the Lions of Teranga, the Werder Bremen forward said Japan could not use the three points from its 2-1 opening win over Colombia as an excuse to settle for a share of the spoils at Ekaterinburg Arena.
“(Winning against Colombia) doesn’t give us any advantages. We need to completely reset coming into the next match,” said Osako. “Once the game starts, we need to be completely focused on getting three points. It would be naive (to think we can play for a draw) at a tournament like the World Cup.”
While he is known for his quiet outward demeanor, the man of the match in Japan’s win over the 10-man Colombians in Saransk has a powerful presence within the Samurai Blue squad, according to his teammates.
“He doesn’t tend to speak much in front of the media. He’s a bit shy but he is a very good player,” Southampton center back Maya Yoshida said. “He contributes a lot to the team and hopefully he can have a performance (against Senegal) like the one he gave against Colombia.”
Osako possesses a quiet confidence, according to another Germany-based player, attacking midfielder Takashi Usami.
“He’s not particularly talkative with the media, but I think that’s because he’s just naturally a pretty quiet guy. That said, he’s very composed. A cool customer,” the Fortuna Dusseldorf playmaker said.
Aside from heading home the winner against Colombia, Osako was instrumental in Japan’s opening goal, beating his man and forcing a save that rebounded to teammate Shinji Kagawa, whose subsequent shot was handled by defender Carlos Sanchez. The resulting red card saw Japan go a goal ahead and gain a man advantage for 87 minutes.
Osako’s runs into the box continually put the Colombian defense under pressure, while his ability to hold up the ball gave Japan’s attack the chance to assemble as it sought to press home its numerical advantage.
The Kagoshima Prefecture native also made a vital contribution at the defensive end, tracking back to block a close-range shot from James Rodriguez as Colombia desperately pressed for a late equalizer.
With Japan coach Akira Nishino indicating he will send out a similar starting 11 in Yekaterinburg, Osako looks set to once again take a leading role as the Samurai Blue try to break down Senegal’s mobile and organized defenders.
In their opening 2-1 win at Moscow’s Spartak Stadium, the Lions of Teranga put the clamps on Poland, with Napoli center back Kalidou Koulibaly outstanding as he kept star striker Robert Lewandowski quiet throughout the match.
Yoshida said he expected Japan’s opponents to pay much closer attention to Osako in the wake of the former Kashima Antlers forward’s starring role in Saransk.
“Of course he’s going to be marked more closely, so we will have to support him in the next match if we’re to get the win,” Yoshida said.
Playing predominantly as a secondary striker, Osako was in and out of the starting lineup for Koln in the Bundesliga last season, scoring six goals across all competitions.
The 28-year-old was bought in the offseason by Werder, a club which gained a high profile in Japan in the 1980s as the home of midfielder Yasuhiko Okudera, one of the first Japanese to have success Europe, and whose career also included a stint with Koln.
With Japan having struggled to score throughout much of its World Cup preparation, the Samurai Blue will be hoping Osako can continue to make inroads against opposing defenses in their remaining group matches and beyond.