Injured defender Sakai hopes to be fit to play against Costa Rica

Injured defender Hiroki Sakai said Friday he would be available for Japan’s upcoming World Cup match against Costa Rica but understands others will decide his fate.

“My feeling is not that bad so I want to be ready for the next game but the decision is everything (with the) coach so maybe I’ll talk to the coach, the team, the doctor, everyone.” said the 32-year-old Urawa Red Diamonds player.

Hiroki Sakai of Japan jumps for the ball during the first half of a World Cup Group E soccer match against Germany at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha November 23, 2022. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

After being substituted in the 75th minute of Japan’s 2-1 win over Germany on Wednesday, Sakai has not attended any of Japan’s training sessions due to a problem with his left hamstring.

“I want to play but an injury is an injury, (so) I’ll see… I’ll do my best,” he said.

Injury or not, Sakai said he and his teammates put their history-making night behind them very quickly so they could focus on Sunday and the challenge in Costa Rica.

“It wasn’t that difficult (to shift focus) because every country is strong at the World Cup… I think any team can win against a strong team,” he said.

“Obviously Costa Rica’s first game was very disappointing, 0-7, but Costa Rica has good power, so let’s give it the maximum.”

Sakai was one of five Japanese players substituted by Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu in the second half, with the changes and formation change turning the game in Samurai Blue’s favour.

Kaoru Mitoma came on as a substitute and it was his penetrating dribbling and pass to Takumi Minamino that resulted in Ritsu Doan scoring Japan’s first goal.

After a training session in the near 30-degree midday heat of Doha, the Brighton & Hove Albion winger said he had enjoyed his moment in the spotlight on his World Cup debut, with many people sending congratulations from home.

“A lot of messages were sent and it made me very happy and it’s difficult to switch (from that feeling), but yes, we are professionals, a professional team and we have a lot of experienced players. This experience helps us a lot,” said the 25-year-old.

“Everyone’s calmed down now. Of course I’m calmed down now… We made history, but it’s over. We have to quickly focus on the next game.”

“The next opponent is a different team, the detail and the defence, the quality and the different style of football. So we have to adapt to a different kind of preparation and a different mentality.”

Junya Ito believes the Costa Ricans will emerge with a sense of desperation, but far from worrying, he sees it as an opportunity.

“They have to win, otherwise they’re out,” he said. “I think they’ll be chasing a bit from the front, so maybe we could take advantage of that.”

Using Costa Rica is something the Reims player has already had some experience with.

In September 2018, he scored his debut goal for Japan against the Central Americans, Japan’s third goal in the 3-0 win at Osaka, which was also Moriyasu’s first game in charge.

“I kind of remember what that goal was. I have a good picture of them,” said the 29-year-old.

“That one goal kept me in the national team and allowed me to collect my caps, so I think it was important.”

David Raum (3) of Germany and Hiroki Sakai of Japan vie for the ball during the second half of their World Cup Group E soccer match at Khalifa International Stadium on November 23, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

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