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HOME > SAMURAI BLUE > ASIAN QUALIFIERS - ROAD TO RUSSIA [3/23] TOP > NEWS > SAMURAI BLUE start preparation in Al Ain for UAE match


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SAMURAI BLUE start preparation in Al Ain for UAE match

20 March 2017

SAMURAI BLUE start preparation in Al Ain for UAE match

In preparation for the sixth match of the World Cup 2018 Final Asian Qualifiers against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 23 March, SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) started their training on Sunday 19 March in Al Ain (UAE) where the match will be held.

The team arrived in Abu Dhabi early in the morning and then moved to Al Ain. After resting at the hotel, the players gathered at a ground in the city at dusk when the heat had cooled off a little. Twelve players with six based abroad including midfielder KAGAWA Shinji (Borussia Dortmund) and forward OKAZAKI Shinji (Leicester City) attended the practice session. Debutant midfielder TAKAHAGI Yojiro (F.C. Tokyo) under coach Vahid HALILHODZIC trained separately at the hotel due to an injury to his right-foot in the match last weekend.

Despite the temperatures a little over 30 degrees, the weather was fairly agreeable with low humidity of 34%. The players seemed to be relaxed during running exercises, followed by stretching and drills without using the ball.

There has been a four-month break between the fifth qualifier match last November and the upcoming game. Samurai with 10 points from three wins, one loss, and one draw are level on points as group leaders Saudi Arabia, but currently sit in second place on goal difference. Japan will meet the UAE in fourth place but with only one point separating the two teams. Last September, the Japanese squad lost 1-2 against the Middle Eastern side in their first game of the final qualifiers.

At the beginning of the practice session, coach Vahid HALILHODZIC encouraged the team: “By winning the two coming games, we will get closer to booking a place in the World Cup. Let’s prepare well to grab our spot.”

Bracing himself ahead of the game Okazaki commented: “After our defeat against the UAE in the first game of the final qualifiers, we got back to where we are now by winning tough matches. The meeting against the UAE will be vital – whether we’ll be back in the same hole or get closer to our goal will depend on the result of this match.”

Furthermore, defender SAKAI Hiroki (Olympique de Marseille) noted: “Losing back-to-back games against the UAE will be simply inacceptable. Defenders need to stay focused to keep the match tight. Then, it will be up to the attackers to score goals and win the match.”

Some players will join the team later as they had to play league matches with their respective clubs over the weekend. Those include midfielder HASEBE Makoto (Eintracht Frankfurt), defender SAKAI Gotoku (Hamburger SV), and forward ASANO Takuma (VfB Stuttgart) who all arrived at the hotel in the evening as scheduled. The entire team are expected to attend practice on Monday 20 March.

Players' Comments

FW OKAZAKI Shinji (Leicester City Football Club/England)
Despite controlling most of the match, we lost the previous home game against the UAE. I don't expect similar kind of dominance in an away game, and thus we have to stay patient even under pressure. The players who have the ability to cope through tough circumstances are required, and I believe experience is needed to get through these difficult matches. Younger players at the national level have also gone through different experiences, and it will be important to coordinate their efforts with the veterans to perform to the best of team’s ability. There was a turning point a few weeks ago at my club, and now I feel more confident that I can perform well at the international level. On top of my current prime condition, if I can contribute to the team by scoring goals, it will be great for myself as well as for the team to get through the qualifying round.

DF SAKAI Hiroki (Olympique de Marseille/France)
I am confident we have the right mentality for the game, and now we need to get ourselves in the best condition possible for the match. We will be focusing on winning the match, regardless of our performance to earn three points. Furthermore, since we only have limited time together before the match, we have to communicate well with one another to eliminate any uncertainty. I’m sure we will face tough stretches during the 90 minutes. However, if we are mentally prepared to make the necessary adjustments on the pitch and get through those tough times without further guidance from the coach on the bench, we will become much stronger as a team. I believe this is crucial especially in an away game.

MF KAGAWA Shinji (Borussia Dortmund/Germany)
We will be facing two important matches this time, and must make sure to win them both. With a winning mindset, I am currently getting myself ready for the match. Against the UAE, we cannot give them free space, especially since they can score off a long feed from their number 10. Furthermore, we need to watch out for two forwards and other players with strong physicality. We will definitely have our scoring chances in the 90 minutes, including stretches where we favorable dictate the tempo of the match. It will be important we capitalise those moments and score goals. Additionally, I will try to keep my composure by reminding myself that we have 90 minutes to play. Lastly, we make the best preparation possible and work hard as a team to win the subsequent matches.

GK HAYASHI Akihiro (F.C. Tokyo)
Since we tend to get a little nervous facing different circumstances away from home, we need to make good preparation and get ourselves mentally ready to enter the game with a positive mindset. Even if the match doesn’t proceed as we expect, we can put pressure on the opponents by playing patiently and not conceding goals. The key is playing as a united team to secure three points. I believe if we play with composure and consistency, I’m sure we will have an excellent match. Furthermore, we also need to watch out for three key UAE players – numbers 7, 10 and 11. I will be looking not only to save shots but also cover the space between the backline and the goalkeeper

FW USAMI Takashi (FC Augsburg/Germany)
I still feel frustrated about the previous match against the UAE, of course. The coming match is vital, as I believe it will have a significant impact on the overall standings of the World Cup qualifiers. We will be feeling tense with strong emotions, at the same time having a sense of urgency with high expectations. But, we are ready to face all those issues as a team. It will be also important to think what I can do for the team and also for myself. I have been considered as a ‘wild card’ of the team, but I am certainly looking for a spot in the starting line-ups as well.


Sun. 19 March PM Training
Mon. 20 March PM Training
Tue. 21 March PM Training
Wed. 22 March TBC Official Conference (TBC)
Official Training (Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium)*
Thu. 23 March 19:30 ASIAN QUALIFIERS vs UAE National Team
(Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium)
Fri. 24 March  PM Training
Sat. 25 March PM Training
Sun. 26 March PM Training
Mon. 27 March TBC Official Conference (Saitama Stadium 2002)
Official Training (Saitama Stadium 2002)*
Tue. 28 March 19:35  ASIAN QUALIFIERS vs Thailand National Team
(Saitama Stadium 2002)

*Open to the media for the first 15min.
*The schedule is subject to change due to the team condition, the weather, etc.


2017-3-23 (Thu.) Local Time 19:30 (Japan Time 24:30) kick off (estimated time)
Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium
UAE National Team vs SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team)
More Information

2017-3-28 (Tue.) 19:35 kick off (estimated time)
Saitama Stadium 2002
SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) vs Thailand National Team
More Information


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