Southampton defender Maya Yoshida believes playing for Japan and the Saints has been equally frustrating over the past year.
With Saints, the defender and his teammates barely scraped by surviving relegation from the Premier League. Meanwhile, Japan has endured some stuttering form which saw the national team qualify for this summer’s 2018 FIFA World Cup late in the qualifying stages last August.
Despite qualifying for the finals, Japan sacked manager Vahid Halilhodzic after a run of poor performances which drew criticism from Japanese fans.
Akira Nishino was hired in Halilhodzic’s place, and it’s taken some time for the team to adapt to a new coach - another familiar feeling as Yoshida adapted to new coach Mark Hughes following Mauricio Pellegrino’s tumultuous tenure as Saints coach.
Speaking in Kazan on Friday, Yoshida said: “We survived, the players had a difficult time and I wanted to share my feelings in both English and Japanese.” [H/T FourFourTwo Australia]
“The frustrations with Southampton and the Japanese team are really similar and we both struggled a lot through the season and qualification for the World Cup.
“After qualifying, we still had this hard time. That experience through the Premier League season helps us a lot I believe and I want to bring my experience and feeling to the Japanese squad as well.
“We struggled a lot last season especially the second-half of the season. We dropped so many points, we had so many issues about the transfer market and we had new managers.
“Every week, I play against good players, that experience helps the national team as well. I enjoy myself every season, but I think it’s the toughest league in the world.”
Yoshida and his teammates carry the hopes of a constantly-growing football nation this summer.
Though the Japanese national team has little expectations in this tournament, Yoshida is hoping to improve on the 2014 World Cup which saw them crash out at the bottom of their four-team group.
“Things in life change very quickly, if we win one game, I think the expectations will change quickly.
“I believe Japanese fans love football, so it’s going to be key for Japanese football in the next 12 months.
“After this, we have the Asian Cup, so we’re key to moving Japanese football forward and we have to carry our people’s minds while representing our country.
“Even coming from the Premier League, the World Cup is different because it’s a different experience, atmosphere and pressure from the country and representing our country is a massive honour.
“Our expectation isn’t as high as last time, but we still have a lot of confidence. It’s going to be really important for my career, this could be the last one… I don’t know, so I’ll try my best.
“I don’t want to regret anything like I did at the last World Cup in Brazil, I want to give 100%.
“We’re preparing very well, even if we have these frustrations and issues after the game against (4-2 win) Paraguay and all the players feel a lot better from a couple of days ago.”