‘Taxi for Japan!’ Players scramble to training in Jeddah after team bus fails to show at hotel
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‘Taxi for Japan!’ Players scramble to training in Jeddah after team bus fails to show at hotel

LAST week, Japan’s footballers sealed their qualification for next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia – this week they were scrambling to training in taxis following a team bus no-show.

Japan, who beat Australia 2-0 to confirm their place in Russia, are in Saudi Arabia for the final game of their qualifying campaign.

But their players were left high and dry when their team bus failed to show at their hotel in Jeddah ahead of Monday’s training session.

Samurai Blue face Saudi Arabia – who are aiming to pip Australia to the second automatic qualifying spot in Group B – on Tuesday.

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The hosting football federation bear responsibility for a visiting team’s logistics – but Japan’s players were putting a positive spin on Monday’s inconvenience.

“I don’t think I’ve ever shared a taxi with team-mates (to the training ground), not even in my youth-team days,” defender Tomoaki Makino said in comments published by Kyodo news agency.

“But there are a lot of experienced players in our team and you have to enjoy this kind of situation. You can’t let it wind you up.”

The Japanese players’ positive way of looking at the situation was no doubt helped by the fact they have already secured their berth at next year’s World Cup.

Japan Football Association officials told Kyodo that the bus was stuck in traffic caused by the end of the Haj pilgrimage.

Coach Vahid Halilhodzic and his players eventually made it to Al-Ahli Saudi FC’s home stadium where practice began 20 minutes late.

Goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima said his team remained focused despite the inconvenience.

“It was an enjoyable trip, and there is nothing wrong with experiencing (something like that) for the first time,” he said.

“Whether or not it was intentional, I don’t know, but there is no point in getting stressed out about it. We just have to keep our focus on the task at hand.”

Saudi Arabia are second behind group winners Japan. A win over Halilhodzic’s team, coupled with a loss or a draw for Australia in their home match over Thailand in Melbourne on Tuesday, will guarantee the Saudis direct qualification to Russia.

The third-placed side in the group can still qualify for Russia but must negotiate a series of playoffs.