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SARANSK, Russia – Word of a deadly earthquake in Japan and an early-morning false alarm at a team hotel have given the country's team at the World Cup some unsettling moments.
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 Monday'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 through an interpreter before Monday afternoon's 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, speaking before his team's Monday afternoon practice in Saransk, 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."
On the pitch, Japan welcomed Leicester City forward Shinji Okazaki back to training after he missed the past four days to rest a nagging calf injury.
"We conducted a check yesterday and today, and he is actually listed up as part of our team, so I'd like you to be reassured," Nishino said.
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