By Sudipto Ganguly
SARANSK, Russia, June 18 (Reuters) – Japan has not had the best of preparations for the World Cup in Russia, and news of an earthquake back home added to their worries on Monday, while a false hotel alarm a day before their opener against Colombia did little to help settle the team.
The four-time Asian champions, who also face Senegal and Poland, have undergone a turbulent 10 months since qualifying, culminating in the firing of Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic, the former Algeria coach, in April after a string of poor results.
Former technical director Akira Nishino, who played as a midfielder for the national side, was named to lead the Samurai Blue in Russia, and has been in charge for just three games in the leadup to the tournament.
The team woke up to the news on Monday that Osaka, Japan’s second-biggest metropolis, was hit by a magnitude 6.1 earthquake in the early hours, killing three people and injuring dozens.
“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.
“They were concerned, so this psychological impact is something I am a bit worried about. But we, the team staff, are consulting with them and hope they will settle down.”
At about the same time as the earthquake, a hotel alarm went off by mistake, leaving the Japanese players nervous and groggy.
“The alarm continued for a while. Some of the players were delicate and nervous and some of them looked a little bit tired in the morning,” Nishino added.
“So I assume there was some negative impact on the players.”
Nishino has named an experienced World Cup team including three players with more than 100 caps — Yuto Nagatomo, Shinji Okazaki and captain Makoto Hasebe. Eleven of the selected players featured at the last World Cup in Brazil.
But Nishino has not had much time to work with the players while his opposite number for the Los Cafeteros, Jose Pekerman, has been in charge for six years.
“Pekerman has had four years (since the last World Cup) and I had only about a month,” Nishino said. “So there is a huge gap between the time we’ve been given. And if I simply take that fact into account, we won’t win.
“However, together with the players I have been preparing them as much as possible. It may not be 120 percent, but I do feel that we have prepared enough.”
Paying tribute to 2014 Golden Boot winner James Rodrigues, the Japan coach said all his players have to be careful of the Colombian playmaker. Nishino, however, wants his team to take the attack to their opponents, who beat them 4-1 at the last World Cup in Brazil.
“We do not want to play reluctantly. We want to play proactively and take the initiative,” he said. “We do have the skills to hold the ball, and we’d like our players to feel confident and focus on attacking.” (Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by Hugh Lawson)