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Japan raring to go against Ivory Coast


Utrecht: Their appetite whetted after playing Cameroon, Japan are  looking forward to locking horns with Côte d'Ivoire in an international friendly on Utrecht, Netherlands on Tuesday.

In their first match together since Matchday Six of the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 last November, the Samurai Blue were held to a goalless draw by Cameroon on Friday and midfielder Gaku Shibasaki said Japan will have to improve against Côte d'Ivoire.

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“I’m glad to be able to play with the team after a year, which was a lot fun for me personally,” said Sugawara.

“In the first half against Cameroon, I felt that we were lacking in our buildup, for which head coach (Hajime) Moriyasu took action during the half-time break by changing the formation.

“We were also playing with the idea that we wouldn’t be easily countered, so I had to firmly position myself with the awareness of filling up our gaps.”

With the J1 League ongoing and with COVID-19 restrictions in place, head coach Moriyasu called up a squad of players based in Europe, with the likes of Yukinari Sugawara being given a chance to impress.

The 20-year-old defender, who plays for Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, was delighted with the call-up which saw him going on in the final minutes against Cameroon.

“Since I started playing football, my aim was to stand on the pitch with the national team,” said Sugawara. "It didn’t matter what position I would play in, as long as I could stand on the pitch for the team. I told head coach Moriyasu that I was prepared to go anywhere.

“The most significant part of this expedition is to study by watching, listening and feeling various things. I have to continue working hard to study and adapt, and also display it through my play.”

The Japan-Côte d'Ivoire friendly will be played at Stadion Galgenwaard (kick-off 16:45 UTC +2).

Sources: Japan Football Association, AFP

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