Haraguchi sees team effort as key to Japan’s World Cup quest

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Japan international Genki Haraguchi believes a team approach will be crucial to his side’s prospects at the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The Samurai Blue are currently preparing for a 6th consecutive appearance at world football’s biggest tournament, but their recent form has hardly been inspiring.

Apart from two victories that were expected over DPR Korea and China at December’s EAFF E-1 Football Championship, Japan have gone winless in their seven of their last nine matches since last October.

Their poor run of results led to the sudden departure of coach Vahid Halilhodzic in April and he was swiftly replaced at the helm by Akira Nishino.

Nishino’s first match in charge ended in a 2-0 loss to Ghana on Wednesday, which was immediately followed the day after with the confirmation of his 23-man squad for Russia 2018.

Haraguchi is one of 15 overseas-based players in the team, which boasts plenty of pedigree in the likes of Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki.

Nonetheless, compared to some of the other teams competing at the World Cup, Haraguchi feels Japan are not a team carried by famous names but rather one which will succeed with every member playing their part.

“Of course, I’m looking forward to the World Cup,” said the 27-year-old, in a Bundesliga feature on him ahead of the tournament.

“We don’t have big stars like [Robert] Lewandowski or James Rodriguez, but we have a group with solidarity and discipline.

“We’ll defend our opponents tactically and watch for chances to attack.”

Despite winning his first cap back in seven years ago, Haraguchi did not feature at Brazil 2014 – meaning this summer will be his first taste of the World Cup.

It marks the culmination of a dream that began with humbler origins in the city of Kumagaya, where a young Haraguchi started out aiming to play for local club Urawa Red Diamonds in the J.League.

“Genki has lived for football since he first drew breath,” added his father, Hajime Haraguchi.

“Genki’s first toy was a football – he started kicking the ball as soon as he could walk.

“Genki always wore a red shirt when he cheered on his team and, over time, he developed a natural desire to play for Urawa.”

And, with the talent to match his ambition, the younger Haraguchi made his professional debut for the Reds as a 17-year-old, going on to make over 200 appearances for them before moving to Germany with Hertha Berlin.

Volker Finke was the Urawa coach that put his faith in an untried youngster who has now evolved into an established forward on the brink of a World Cup appearance.

While the likes of Kagawa, Honda and Gaku Shibasaki will provide the Samurai Blue with plenty of guile, Finke believes Haraguchi’s main weapon will be an asset for Nishino to exploit.

The former Freiburg and Cameroon coach explained: “Genki has a special and rare gift. He has raw pace and that’s ideal for a striker.

“There are quicker strikers than him, but he has fundamentally excellent pace.

“What’s actually very unusual is that he also has unbelievable powers of recovery.”