ITU, Brazil - Japan captain Makoto Hasebe is making a last-ditch effort to get into shape for the World Cup after skipping two pre-World Cup matches with muscle tightness in his legs.
On Sunday, Hasebe appeared ready for Japan's Group C opener against Cote d'Ivoire on Saturday, showing sharp moves during the Samurai Blue's practice session and taking part in all elements of the practice. Hasebe has recently been working out on his own during national team practices because of the problems in his legs.
"It's been a really long time since the last time I practiced as hard as I did today. I'm relieved that I was able to play normally. I'm OK now."
Hasebe underwent a pair of surgeries after injuring his right knee in January. He was unable to return to the pitch until May 10, when he played for Nuremberg in the team's last game of the Bundesliga season. He then appeared for the Samurai Blue in a warmup match against Cyprus on May 27.
However, because he unintentionally favoured his right knee during practices and games, he began to feel tightness in other parts of his legs, Hasebe said. The tightness forced him to skip warmups against Costa Rica and Zambia in the United States.
Japan manager Alberto Zaccheroni described Hasebe as a very important player, adding it's important that Hasebe stays with the team. "Practically speaking, it's important for the team to have Hasebe in good shape. He is preparing to be ready for our first match [against Cote d'Ivoire]."
Among defensive midfielders, Cerezo Osaka's Hotaru Yamaguchi is making his presence felt on the national team. However, as the national team slightly lacks depth in defensive midfielders, the recovery of Hasebe is reassuring for the team.
Defender Gotoku Sakai, who has also been working out on the side, returned to regular practice on Sunday. Sakai, who can play on both sides of defence, made sharp moves, marking a steady recovery from a right knee injury he suffered on May 24 during training camp in Kagoshima Prefecture.