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Japan team at World Cup troubled by earthquake, hotel alarm


    The Japanese national soccer team warms up during official training on the eve of the match between Japan and Colombia at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Mordovia Arena in Saransk, Russia, today.

SARANSK, Russia >> Word of a deadly earthquake in Japan and an early-morning false alarm at a team hotel have given the country’s World Cup squad some unsettling moments.

Japan coach Akira Nishino, who built his professional reputation coaching Gamba Osaka, said he and a number of his players have acquaintances or loved ones affected by today’s quake, making for an unwelcome distraction on the eve of the team’s Group H opener against Colombia in Saransk.

“The psychological impact is something I’m slightly worried about at this point,” Nishino said before today’s afternoon training session. “As staff members, we are consulting with them and I’d like them to be settled down as soon as possible.”

Osaka is Japan’s second-largest city. The 6.1 magnitude earthquake killed at least three people — including a 9-year-old girl — and injured hundreds.

Midfielder and captain Hasebe Makoto said that on behalf of the team, he “would like to extend heartfelt condolences to those who’ve been affected and I hope damage can be limited as much as possible and recovery is as fast as possible.”

Makoto agreed that players with loved ones in the Osaka area “might have been negatively impacted” emotionally.

“The team as a whole would like to extend support, and I, as captain, would like to do that,” he said.

Japan players with Osaka ties include goalkeeper Masaaki Higashigushi and midfielder Hotaru Yamaguchi, who play professionally in Osaka, while attacking midfielder Keisuke Honda was born in the area.

Nishino said he and players found out about the earthquake shortly after it happened because an alarm went off at the team hotel in Saransk and blared for about 15 minutes around the same time as the earthquake struck.

“The alarm continued for a while and there are some delicate, nervous players, and some of them looked a bit tired in the morning,” Nishino said. “So I assume there was some negative impact.”

Team officials said that none of the players have reported earthquake-related injuries among family or close friends, and players haven’t reported any difficulty contacting loved ones.

“There are no problems with friends whom I’ve contacted, but a lot of people were injured and I guess there are a lot of people I have not contacted yet,” said forward Shinji Okazaki, who also plays for Leicester City. “I hope I will get a handle on their situation as soon as I can.”

There was some good news for Okazaki on the pitch. He was back to training after missing the past four days to rest a nagging calf injury.

“I feel it’s still not as good as it could be,” Okazaki said after training. “It’s not 100 percent, but it’s all right, getting better, and I’m hoping to polish my skills and that there will be no problem.

“I really have to do my best because I was chosen for the Japanese team and I feel that responsibility because I’m a team representative,” he added. “I really feel better now, so I don’t need to think about this. I just need to concentrate on the game.”

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