(Reuters) - Japan’s players had to scramble to training in taxis ahead of their World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia after their team bus failed to show up at their hotel.
The hosting federation bear responsibility for a visiting team’s logistics but the Samurai Blue, who have already booked their ticket to Russia, put a positive spin on the inconvenience ahead of Tuesday’s match in Jeddah.
“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.”
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.
Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima said his team remained focused despite the snag.
“It was an enjoyable trip and there’s 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 Japan in Group B of Asian qualifying. A win over the Samurai Blue and 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 tortuous series of playoffs.
Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Ian Ransom