Japan’s World Cup squad departed the country Saturday on a charter flight bound for Austria, where they will hold a camp in preparation for the 32-team tournament which starts on June 14 in Russia.
More than 100 well-wishers gathered at Narita airport near Tokyo to see off the 23-man squad led by head coach Akira Nishino, who is tasked with guiding the Samurai Blue out of a tough Group H after replacing sacked predecessor Vahid Halilhodzic in early April.
“All of us, players and staff, will fight as one,” the 63-year-old Nishino said at a departure ceremony before boarding the flight.
Players including Galatasaray defender Yuto Nagatomo and Southampton center back Maya Yoshida tweeted photos of squad members posing in navy blue three-piece suits aboard the chartered Japan Airlines plane before takeoff.
The Samurai Blue will go into camp in the western Austria city of Innsbruck and play their final World Cup warmups against Switzerland in Lugano, Switzerland, on June 8, and Paraguay in Innsbruck on June 12.
(Head coach Akira Nishino, center left)
Japan lost their final World Cup warmup on home soil, going down 2-0 to Ghana on Wednesday in Yokohama, a day before the announcement of the final squad for the tournament.
The Japan Football Association sacked Bosnian former head coach Halilhodzic in a shock move just two months before the tournament following a run of poor performances, with former JFA technical director Nishino appointed as his replacement.
Japan will open their World Cup campaign against Colombia in the city of Saransk on June 19. The Samurai Blue will then face Senegal in Yekaterinburg on June 24 before playing their final group match against Poland in Volgograd on June 28.