Japan turn to Saint Yoshida for divine intervention

Japan's Maya Yoshida has the unenviable task of marshalling a defence to keep out three of the deadliest strikers in football at the World Cup.

With Sadio Mane, James Rodriguez and Robert Lewandowski bearing down on the Japanese goal, it could well be a case of damage limitation for the Blue Samurai in Russia.

Their cause has not been helped by the abrupt sacking of coach Vahid Halilhodzic just two months before they take on Senegal, Colombia and Poland, plunging the Japanese team into crisis.

So it is perhaps little surprise that the first person Akira Nishino visited after taking over from the Franco-Bosnian was Yoshida, flying to England to sound out the rugged Southampton centre-back.

While Yoshida is likely to be one of the busiest players at the World Cup, the 29-year-old offers Nishino a solid base from which to build.

A no-nonsense defender, Yoshida is a cool customer and one of only a few Japan players to emerge with any credit from a wholly uninspiring qualifying campaign.

How Yoshida and the Japanese defence cope with the threat of players such as Mane, Rodriguez and Lewandowski could dictate how long they remain at the World Cup -- provided they can find the spark in attack.

Though not the quickest, Yoshida embodies the Samurai spirit of the Japan side and will relish the physical battle after helping Southampton -- nicknamed the Saints -- escape relegation from the English Premier League.

But Japan's Group H rivals possess lethal finishers and Yoshida will remember how a rampant Rodriguez inspired Colombia to a 4-1 win over Japan at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

After crashing out in the group stage four years ago, Yoshida has none the less set his sights high for Russia.

"I think the last 16 is a realistic goal," he told Japanese media. "But ideally I'd like us to get to the quarter-finals, a stage we've never reached before."

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