Friday 08 June 2018, 02:05

Yoshida relishing Colombia rematch

  • Maya Yoshida played all three games for Japan at Brazil 2014

  • The experienced Southampton defender is known for his attacking flair

  • Yoshida says last-16 qualification would be a success

Japan defender Maya Yoshida has a score to settle with Colombia when the two sides re-unite in their Group H opener at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

The pair met in their group concluder at Brazil 2014 with Japan requiring a win against a Colombia side that had already sealed a place in the knockout stage. Yoshida and Co battled hard but their hopes were dashed with a crushing 4-1 defeat against an uncompromising opponent. Four years on, that disappointment remains an unhappy memory for Yoshida.

"We were in a very difficult position going into the closing group match against Colombia," the 29-year-old Southampton centre-back told ahead of the pair’s upcoming meeting at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk. "Our opening loss to Ivory Coast cost us dearly, when we scored early but then we threw away our lead cheaply.

"So when the Colombia test came, we faced a must-win scenario. We had a hard time [against Colombia] and they taught us a lesson of how tough the World Cup could be."

With memories of that devastating defeat still fresh, Yoshida is relishing the opportunity to right the wrongs of four years ago.

"I am really excited to meet them again,” said Yoshida. "But things are much different compared to last time. Four years ago we met in the last group game but this time in Russia we play against each other in the opener.

"Usually the first match is hard for every team and Colombia should be no exception. I think it will be a tight game."

Comfortable on the ball, Yoshida has been a reassuring presence in the Japan back-line for many years now. In addition to his defensive qualities, Yoshida has forged a reputation for scoring crucial goals, famously netting the only goal against a resilient Korea DPR to save Japan’s blushes in a qualifying match for Brazil 2014. Since debuting in 2010, Yoshida has tallied ten goals in 80 international appearances.

"In modern football a defender can't just be tall, but must possess more than just defensive skills,” Yoshida said. “In short, a modern player needs to be an all-rounder, and that includes going forward in attack.”

Yoshida is among those boasting vast overseas experiences having spent the past eight years playing in Europe. He had a two-year stint with VVV-Venlo in the Netherlands before joining Southampton in 2012, where he is still plying his trade.

"It is [important] to perform in a top level competition, especially the English Premier League. Here I play against some of the world's best players week-in, week-out so I have the experiences of playing at the highest level, which I can share with my national team-mates."

With the experience garnered at Brazil 2014, Yoshida is eager to make the most of his second visit to football’s greatest stage. "I am really looking forward to the World Cup in Russia. In Brazil, four years ago, we didn’t play the football we wanted. This is something that we want to rectify.

"We have a new coach to guide us,” Yoshida added, referring to the recent appointment of Akira Nishino. “Although our expectations are not so high [as before], the players aspirations remain unchanged.

“Realistically, it would be a success for us to reach the Round of 16. We will try our best to make a good World Cup for ourselves."