Soccer: Spain game most important of my career, says Japan's Yoshida

Maya Yoshida will play his 124th game for Japan when he captains his team against Spain at the World Cup on Thursday, and he says it will be the most important outing of his career.

Speaking to Kyodo News at Japan's training ground in Doha a day ahead of the match that will decide Japan's 2022 World Cup future, Yoshida said it even ranks in importance above the round of 16 game against Belgium at the 2018 World Cup.

"It is difficult to compare between Belgium and this time because against Belgium, everything was different," the 34-year-old defender said of the game that Japan lost 3-2 in Rostov, Russia.

"This performance tomorrow can make another future for Japanese football. Many kids will be watching, probably, so I hope we can play more games...and that is why we need to win tomorrow."

In Japan's 1-0 loss to Costa Rica, Yoshida made the fateful choice to play a lofted, short clearance that led to Keysher Fuller's 81st-minute winner.

Yoshida's head dropped as the ball curled in and put Japan in a one-goal hole when many expected them to have a relatively straightforward Sunday afternoon.

On Wednesday, he said the loss to the Central Americans "was not in the plan."

"This is what it is now. So we have to handle it," the Schalke defender said. "The simple thing is, we need to win."

"Of course, it is possible to draw and see what happens with Germany against Costa Rica. But, basically, we have to try to win the game."

During the press conference with Spain coach Luis Enrique earlier in the day, much of the focus from the media was on La Roja and their likely path deeper into the tournament.

Enrique stressed that Japan must be overcome before anything else can be achieved, but there is no doubt Spain, which can advance with a win or a draw versus Japan, have bigger ambitions.

Yoshida said he "hopes" Spain are overlooking his team ahead of the game at Khalifa International Stadium in Al Rayyan.

If they are, Japan have already shown against Germany in this tournament that they are capable of springing a surprise.

"But, of course, they have experience and they have (been in) a lot of situations like this, this kind of game," Yoshida said. "So I don't think they will underrate us."

"How they play, it is nothing special. We have to prepare well. Same as (we did) against Germany."

© Kyodo News