And so it came to be. The team that everybody thought Takeshi Okada would pick was the team that he picked (pretty much). The full 23 is as follows:
Goalkepers: Seigo Narazaki, Eiji Kawashima, Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi
Defenders: Yuji Nakazawa, Marcus Tulio Tanaka, Yuichi Komano, Daiki Iwamasa, Yasuyuki Konno, Yuto Nagatomo, Atsuto Uchida,
Midfielders: Shunsuke Nakamura, Junichi Inamoto, Yasuhito Endo, Kengo Nakamura, Daisuke Matsui, Yuki Abe, Makoto Hasebe, Keisuke Honda
Forwards: Keiji Tamada, Yoshito Okubo, Kisho Yano, Shinji Okazaki, Takayuki Morimoto
Everybody also thinks that Japan will fail miserably and be sent packing after their three group games; a scenario that is sadly looking increasingly likely.
During the defeat to South Korea in their send-off match on Monday – the second time in three months that they have lost at home to their deadly rivals – the players looked gone. Not physically – the J.League season is only 12 games old – but mentally. They do not appear to be in any condition to be facing the best in the world. They don’t even look ready to be facing Nicklas Bendtner.
In the press conference after the loss in Saitama, Mr. Okada revealed that he had offered to resign, but had had his gesture rejected by JFA chief Motoaki Inukai. (The poor guy just can’t catch a break can he?) But then, reacting almost as quickly as his players had on the pitch, the head coach backtracked the next day, suggesting that he had just been joking. Needless to say, this joshing has not gone down too well.
Still, negativity will achieve nothing. There is a World Cup to get excited about and I’m damned if I’m going to let a(nother) friendly defeat dampen my optimism entirely. There are still two games left before the tournament, providing the Samurai Blue with the perfect opportunity to claim a couple of heavyweight scalps and storm into the finals in scintillating form.
First up is England this weekend in Austria. Both teams are currently training in the Alps (almost certainly performing Rocky IV-esque drills in the snow) and will meet in Graz on Sunday at the UPC Arena (continuing the Hollywood beefcake theme, this was formerly the Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium).
While Japan will almost certainly field a very similar team to that which faced Korea (although a fit-again Junichi Inamoto may appear in midfield), England are expected to ring the changes from their previous game with Mexico. The use of those on the fringes could be more dangerous than facing an England side made up players already assured of their shirt though, as Fabio Capello will be shedding his squad of seven back-up players after the match and they will be looking to take this last opportunity to impress.
With this in mind I would personally like to see Mr. Okada employ a similar tack. Giving the likes of Daiki Iwamasa, Kengo Nakamura and Takayuki Morimoto a go from the start could inject a bit of drive into the team – something they have not had for quite some time. Also, by bringing them in for players such as Yuji Nakazawa, Yasuhito Endo and Yoshito Okubo would send a message out to the squad that nobody’s place is assured.
Of course, this is not particularly likely and, unfortunately, whatever team Japan puts out will be very hard-pushed to get anything against any combination of the England squad. If they can just put in a performance though, and show that they have a little bit of fight in them, it could work wonders for their confidence. Following that up with a similar display against Cote D’Ivoire on Friday would surely lift the camp, and the nation, in time for their first game on June 14th, when they face Cameroon in Bloemfontein.