DOHA: South Korea’s Son Heung-min in action at the Al Egla Training Site 5 on Sunday.—Reuters
DOHA: South Korea’s Son Heung-min in action at the Al Egla Training Site 5 on Sunday.—Reuters

DOHA: Japan will “fight like samurai” in Monday’s World Cup last-16 clash with Croatia as they battle to reach the quarter-finals for the first time, defender Yuto Nagatomo said.

Japan reached the knockout round after stunning Germany and Spain to top Group ‘E’ but they are not satisfied with what they have achieved so far in Qatar.

Veteran Nagatomo is appearing at his fourth World Cup and he urged his team-mates to “show the samurai spirit to the world” against Croatia.

“Before battle, the samurai would polish their weapons and refine their technique, but if they were scared in battle, all that would count for nothing,” the former Inter Milan left-back said Sunday.

“It’s the same as football. Of course tactics and technique are important, but if we’re scared, it doesn’t matter how much we’ve trained over the past four years because our technique will be no use.

“The most important thing is to have courage,” the 36-year-old added.

Japan have reached the last 16 at three previous World Cups but they have yet to make it as far as the quarter-finals.

They were eliminated at the first knock-out round four years ago in Russia when they threw away a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 to Belgium with the last kick of the game.

Nagatomo said the defeat had been on his mind for the past four years and he is ready to wipe away the memory against Croatia.

“The past four years have been tough for me but I think we have all overcome that and improved as players,” he said.

“I have been playing for Japan for almost 15 years and as far as I can see, this is the strongest team we’ve ever had at the World Cup.”

Japan had to come from behind to beat both Germany and Spain, and were forced to defend for long periods against opponents who dominated possession.

Coach Hajime Moriyasu wants his players to have more of the ball against Croatia but urged them to show “resilience” whatever the situation.

“The players showed their ability against Germany and Spain, they were united as a team and dug in and fought until the end,” he said.

“They have proved that when they play like that, it brings results.

“Of course it’s important to think about our opponents but first of all I want our players to show what they can do.”

he 12th-ranked Croatians are favourites to beat 24th-ranked Japan, but the Samurai Blue astounded expectations to defeat two powerhouses and former World Cup winners.

“They will apply the Samurai warrior philosophy. So will we. If we want to go further, we must apply that same attitude, do our best and never underestimate anyone,” Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic told reporters. noting Japan’s scant possession statistics in both those wins.

“Japan have the least ball possession in the world, but they make great transition. This is the most perseverant, persistent opponent. They simply do not give up. We have a similar mentality, Japan and Croatia. We stand on equal ground.”

Young defender Josko Gvardiol said he knew Japan’s spirit well from their presence in the Bundesliga where he plays.

“I know the Japanese players very well,” he added. “They represent quite a danger. They are a fighting team. They fight to the very end. They do not surrender.”

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2022

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