Sleepless in Saransk: Japan’s interrupted night before World Cup opener

Not enough shut eye: Japan's footballers had a disturbed night
AFP

Saransk (Russia) (AFP) – Japan suffered an interrupted night ahead of their World Cup opener against Colombia, interrupted by news of a deadly earthquake at home and an early morning fire alarm. 

The Japanese are hunting World Cup revenge at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk on Tuesday after being hammered 4-1 by a James Rodriguez-inspired Colombia in the group stages of Brazil 2014.

However, disturbing news of an earthquake in Osaka, which killed three people and injured more than 300, and a fire alarm at 5:00 am on Monday at the team hotel meant the players struggled to get much sleep.

“An alarm went off by mistake and that was about the same time news of the earthquake came in,” said Japan coach Akira Nishino.

“The alarm continued for a while, there are some nervous players, so a few looked a bit tired this morning at training.”

Midfielder Hotaru Yamaguchi and goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi, who play for Osaka-based clubs, are among those with family or friends in the affected zone.

“Some of the players are emotionally impacted,” admitted Japan captain Makoto Hasebe. “As a team we want to extend their support to them and I want to help them as captain.

“I want to express my heartfelt condolences to all those affected back home.”

The Japanese will need to put the off-field disruptions behind them to face Colombia, whose star forward James is battling a calf injury.

“There are some players from Colombia who have matured in the last four years, so I think they are now a tougher opponent,” said Hasebe.

“We had to take some risks (in 2014), because that was our last pool game, but this is an opener, so it’s different. Of course we’d like revenge but we’d also like to stick to our game plan and execute it well.”

If James is fit, the Japanese will need to find a way to contain the Bayern Munich forward, who scored six goals in qualifiers on the road to Russia.

“He is almost like a symbol for the team, he’s their points getter and a mood setter,” said Nishino. “We will have to try to close him down as a team. We can’t give him time or room.”

Nishino has not had long to prepare his side since taking over when Vahid Halilhodzic was sacked in April.

“I have had about a month, so if you consider it that way I won’t be able to win,” quipped the 63-year-old.

“I have been preparing the team as much as possible, we’re in good condition and confident enough. We don’t want to react, we want to be proactive and take the initiative.”

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