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Soccer: Japan focused on combating Colombian attack as Group H showdown nears

Players and Japan's head coach Akira Nishino, center, pose for a team photo prior to a training session of Japan national team at the 2018 soccer World Cup in Kazan, Russia, on June 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

KAZAN, Russia (Kyodo) -- With just four days remaining until their World Cup campaign kicks off, Japan were focused Friday on shutting down the potent attack of first-up opponents Colombia.

On the second day of their camp in Kazan, the Samurai Blue opened training to the media for less than an hour, posing for their official World Cup portrait before conducting speed and flexibility drills.

With a lineup including 2014 Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez and Colombia's all-time leading scorer Radamel Falcao, La Tricolor could pose serious problems in Group H for Japan, who have not kept a clean sheet with a full-strength team since securing World Cup qualification last August.

As goalkeeper with French first division side Metz, Japan custodian Eiji Kawashima has firsthand knowledge of the danger posed by Falcao, who netted 18 Ligue 1 goals for Monaco this past season.

"(Falcao) is always willing to score goals. We just have to try to control him as much as we can," Kawashima said, adding that the key to curtailing Colombia would be "taking away their space."

Rodriguez, who became a household name in Japan following his man-of-the-match performance in Colombia's 4-1 win over the Samurai Blue at the 2014 tournament in Brazil, did not train with his teammates Thursday amid reports he is suffering from a calf strain.

The 26-year-old, currently on loan with Bayern Munich from Real Madrid, missed two weeks of the Bundesliga season earlier this year with calf problems, although it is not clear whether a related issue kept him out of Thursday's training.

After skipping the first day of camp with tightness in his right thigh and both calves, Shinji Okazaki practiced separately from the rest of the Japan squad Friday, going through light running drills under the watchful eye of a trainer.

The Leicester forward's condition is continuing to improve, with only minor soreness lingering in his right calf, according to a team spokesman.

Kawasaki Frontale midfielder Ryota Oshima and Kashima Antlers defender Gen Shoji also ran separately from the rest of the squad after experiencing tightness of the right thigh and left hamstring, respectively.

The hamstring issue is a minor one according to 25-year-old World Cup debutant Shoji, who expects to be fully fit in time for the Colombia match.

"It's totally fine. We just needed to confirm a few things, to make sure I'm at my best for all three group matches, but also looking ahead specifically at the Colombia game," Shoji said.

While Japan's defensive lineup has largely been consistent in recent matches, with the likes of Southampton's Maya Yoshida, Urawa's Tomoaki Makino and Galatasaray's Yuto Nagatomo sure starters when healthy, things are less certain up front.

Yoshinori Muto appears to be behind Yuya Osako in the pecking order, with the Mainz striker even joking that he expects to start on the bench when asked about his likely position.

However, the 25-year-old Muto said competition between himself and other forwards for a starting spot is ultimately healthy, with everyone focused on the team ahead of the individual.

"We may be rivals for a position, but we're all working toward the goal of victory for Japan," Muto said.

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