Quake startles Japanese camp

Colombia's star midfielder James Rodriguez is struggling with a strain in his left calf and is a doubt for the match against Japan.
Colombia's star midfielder James Rodriguez is struggling with a strain in his left calf and is a doubt for the match against Japan.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Opponents Colombia not spared anxiety with star midfielder's fitness in question

GROUP H

Colombia v Japan

Poland v Senegal

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SARANSK (Russia) • Japan have not had the best of preparations for the World Cup in Russia, and news of an earthquake back home added to their worries yesterday, while a false hotel alarm a day before their opener against Colombia did little to help settle the team.

The four-time Asian champions have undergone a turbulent 10 months since qualifying, culminating in the firing of Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic in April. Former technical director Akira Nishino was named to lead the Samurai Blue in Russia, and has been in charge for just three games in the lead-up to the tournament.

The team woke up to the news yesterday that Osaka, Japan's second-biggest metropolis, was hit by a magnitude 6.1 earthquake in the early hours, killing four people and injuring hundreds.

"There were players who were a bit shocked by this incident and they were concerned about relatives and family members," Nishino told reporters ahead of Japan's Group H opener at the Mordovia Arena today. "This psychological impact is something I am a bit worried about."

At about the same time as the earthquake, a hotel alarm went off by mistake, leaving the Japanese players nervous and groggy.

"Some of the players were delicate and nervous and some of them looked a little bit tired in the morning," Nishino added.

Colombia have concerns of their own as they sweat on the fitness of star midfielder James Rodriguez.

The top scorer at Brazil 2014 is a doubt after struggling with a strain in his left calf, which also flared up last February. The 26-year-old Bayern Munich attacking midfielder is key to Colombia's chances of repeating their run to the quarter-finals four years ago. He netted six goals and created four assists to help Colombia qualify for Russia.

Japan midfielder Genki Haraguchi told The Japan Times: "He's their key player so, from our point of view, if he's not playing, it makes things easier."

The Samurai Blue will not be changing the way they set up if the playmaker is indeed ruled out.

Defender Yuto Nagatomo told the newspaper: "Whether (Rodriguez) plays or not, no matter who lines up for our opponents, the way we approach the game doesn't change. The team and coach Nishino have a strategy in place that doesn't depend on whether a certain player is or isn't in the opposing line-up."

The Japanese will try to improve on the 4-1 drubbing handed to them by Colombia at the 2014 World Cup when Jackson Martinez scored twice to send their winless rivals home after finishing bottom of their group.

"I think we will cope," said Japan captain Makoto Hasebe. "We have three tough opponents. But they are not (defending champions) Germany, so we have a chance and we hope we can go further."

Also in Group H are Senegal and Poland, who meet in Moscow today. That clash promises to be a shootout between two of European football's most lethal forwards - Sadio Mane and Robert Lewandowski.

Mane scored 10 Champions League goals for Liverpool. Bayern Munich's Lewandowski ended the season as the Bundesliga's top scorer for the third time with 29 goals - 41 in all competitions.

"That is true, the expectations are high, but they expect it not only from me but from the whole team," Lewandowski told Fifa.com.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2018, with the headline 'Quake startles Japanese camp'. Print Edition | Subscribe