Archive for June, 2018


Do or die for the daihyo

Japan finally picked up a win in their last warm-up game ahead of the World Cup, but with Colombia up next improvements are still required all over the pitch… (日本語版はこちら)

Football Channel, Saturday 16th May, 2018

In England there is a saying that a team is ‘already on the beach’. It is used towards the end of the season when a side has nothing to play for and knows it can’t win any trophies or be relegated, and implies that while the players are on the pitch in body their minds are already elsewhere, focused on the surf and the sand and topping up their tans.

In the second half in Innsbruck last Tuesday Paraguay were very much ‘on the beach’, as Gustavo Morinigo’s men sleepwalked through the second 45 minutes of their friendly against Japan and allowed the Samurai Blue to pick up a much-needed, morale-boosting 4-2 win in their final warm-up ahead of the World Cup.

However, English football also has the maxim that, ‘you can only beat what’s put in front of you’, and the fact that Japan were able – just about – to overcome their disinterested opponents was just what the doctor ordered after a miserable few months.

The dark clouds hanging over Akira Nishino’s squad haven’t been blown away completely by a victory assisted by some questionable goalkeeping and an own goal, but a win is a win and the players have at least remembered what it feels like to bask in the glow of victory ahead of today’s vital opener against Colombia.

At the same time, the side should certainly not be getting too carried away, and the fact remains that they still face an uphill struggle to make any kind of impact in Russia.

The first 45 minutes against Paraguay were as uninspiring as the earlier losses to Switzerland and Ghana, with the team devoid of any real spark in attack and continuing to look susceptible defensively. There were far too many unforced errors, with possession surrendered cheaply and accuracy once again lacking with final balls and shots, and while things improved in the second period that was as much down to Paraguay switching off as it was to Japan clicking up a gear or two.

After the miserable 2-0 defeat to Ghana on 30 May Makoto Hasebe was attempting to remain positive, pointing out that the team knew which areas they had to improve in.

“I think it’s big that the two goals we conceded came about as a result of our mistakes, not being broken down,” the captain said.

Football Channel, Tuesday 19th June, 2018

“We need to correct those kind of errors, but we weren’t really opened up by the opponent. We still have a lot to work on, plenty of issues are cropping up, but we are in the middle of the process so I don’t feel things are especially bad.”

The concern, however, is the very fact that the team was still in the middle of the process on the eve of the competition. Three years of work under Vahid Halilhodzic were thrown out the window at the eleventh hour, and although the starting eleven doesn’t look like it will be hugely different to that from Brazil four years ago, the ongoing lack of cohesion in the side is a big worry.

“Everyone is talking about ‘veterans, veterans’, but personally I still think of myself as young and feel like I’m in the best condition of my career, including mentally,” Yuto Nagatomo said at the team’s pre-tournament training camp in Chiba, three weeks before attempting to prove his youthfulness with a hugely questionable new hairstyle.

“I don’t feel the years at all, but there are still many things that us players with plenty of experience can pass on to the younger players. That isn’t just in terms of speaking with them, but also demonstrating things on the pitch. In that respect I want to become a player who leads by example.”

That is certainly vital in the cauldron of the World Cup, but a cursory glance at Japan’s 23 raises the question as to which youngsters exactly the wise old heads will be guiding in Russia. Just two of the squad are aged 24 or under, and they are third choice goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura and fourth choice centre back Naomichi Ueda.

Who will inject some life into the team’s attacks? Where is the fearless tyro willing to try something different in a tight spot? Where are the young legs to charge around and see out a win or chase down lost causes? The Keisuke Honda against Cameroon in 2010? The Yosuke Ideguchi against Australia in 2017?

Ultimately, those are the things that settle games at the World Cup, and while the win over Paraguay will have offered the team a little encouragement they are going to need to perform at a significantly higher level at the competition proper. The question is: does this group of players have it in them?


Samurai Blue hoping to exceed expectations at World Cup

Japan get their sixth consecutive World Cup campaign underway on Tuesday, when they take on Colombia in Saransk.

Japan Forward, Sunday 17th June, 2018

I took a look at the side’s preparations for the tournament for Japan Forward, considering how large the spectre of Vahid Halilhodzic will loom over the Samurai Blue’s campaign.

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June 2018