Posts Tagged ‘ 週刊サッカーマガジン

30
Jun
11

Nadeshiko aiming for the top at the World Cup

The Japanese women’s football team – Nadeshiko Japan – got their World Cup campaign up-and-running on Monday with a win over New Zealand. Before the side left for Germany I spoke with captain Homare Sawa about her aims and expectations for the tournament.

People inside and outside of the country have been getting very excited about Japanese football recently, with the nation finally seeming to make an impact on the global game.

While Nagatomo and co. become the poster-boys of this development and are, quite rightly, being lauded for their success though, I wonder how many people can name the Japanese player who has already played over 160 times for the country and appeared at five World Cups?

Well, that is exactly what Homare Sawa achieved on Monday, as the Nadeshiko beat New Zealand 2-1 in their first group game of the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany.

Sawa, now 32, made her first appearance at a World Cup finals back in Sweden in 1995 at the age of just 16, and having spent half of her life as an international footballer she believes that this year’s competition will be her last.

I spoke to the Nadeshiko captain last month as the side trained in Akabane, where she was very open and friendly and spoke of her desire to make this World Cup her most successful.

“This time my situation is different from other World Cups, the first time I was only 16 years old, the youngest player,” she said. “But now I have grown in experience so this time should be the best World Cup for me. I think this will be my last time.”

The thought of the Nadeshiko at a World Cup without Sawa seems a little strange (it has only happened once, after all), but the women’s game, like the men’s, is going from strength to strength and the next star of the side will be taking to the field alongside Sawa in Germany this year.

Mana Iwabuchi, who is juggling her University studies at Komazawa Joshi Daigaku with her blossoming football career at NTV Beleza, is being broken into the team gently, but while great care is being taken with her development there is no mistaking the undoubted talent that she possesses.

I asked Sawa if, having made her World Cup debut at a similarly young age, she had any advice for the 18-year-old Iwabuchi, and she looked a little surprised at the suggestion and laughed.

“Not at all; of course not! Nothing specific but I would like her to enjoy this World Cup and to enjoy the experience and everything that goes with it.”

When I press a little more she insists that the young striker does not need any special tips, having already appeared in several international tournaments at youth level.

“This time is senior so will be different but she already has lots of experience playing in world competition. Full national team and the younger ones are different, of course physically, height and weight and physical strength, but also the mental side, the intelligence of the players.”

Iwabuchi showed very few signs of being troubled by these aspects at last year’s East Asian Football Federation Championships, grabbing two goals against Chinese Taipei, and I ask Sawa what she thought of the youngster’s instant adaptation to the full national team.

She breaks into a smile and says, “In my first game I scored four goals though, against the Phillipines! Then I was 15…”

While this is, of course, spoken in jest, such friendly banter can serve just as well as – if not better than – serious advice to motivate young players, and having Iwabuchi on top form going into the tournament, along with fellow strikers Shinobu Ono – who was top scorer when the Nadeshiko won the Asian Games gold last year – and Yuki Nagasato, will be vital if the side are to achieve Sawa’s goal of exiting the World Cup with a medal.

Having failed to get through the group stages in China four years ago this will be no mean feat, but with the tournament set to be Sawa’s last World Cup she intends to give everything for the cause, and I genuinely hope she succeeds in her aim.

“It will be very, very difficult to get a medal in the world tournament,” she said, before concluding typically, “but we will try. I think nothing is impossible so we will try.”

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Further comments from Sawa san can be found here, in a preview I wrote for the-AFC.com.

03
Dec
10

Copa load of this…

With Japan travelling to Argentina next year as special invitees to the Copa America I decided to focus a little on the competition for my Weekly Soccer Magazine column last week. Many thanks to Sebastian Garcia (www.mundoalbiceleste.com) for his assistance with the article.

The draw for the 2011 Copa America was made on November 11th and Japan’s inclusion has raised some eyebrows – with certain parties suggesting that the Samurai Blue’s presence devalues the competition and turns it into more of an exhibition. The team is sure to benefit greatly from the experience though, and it will be interesting to see what kind of squad Alberto Zaccheroni decides to take with him to Argentina.

Japan will come up against Colombia, Bolivia and, most excitingly, Argentina in Group A and, in order to find out a little more about what the team can expect, I sat down with Sebastian Garcia, an Argentine football journalist and editor of mundoalbiceleste.com, and picked his brains.

Colombia, the 2001 Copa America champions, are Japan’s first opponents and the defence will have to be wary of two players in particular. Striker Radamel Falcao Garcia currently plays for Portuguese side FC Porto and, as a graduate of the River Plate youth team, will be a popular player around the country during the tournament.

Possibly starting alongside him, although probably slightly further back, will be Racing Club’s no. 10 Giovanni Moreno. Moreno is a free-kick specialist who Seba informs me looks slow but is almost impossible to catch once he gets going.

This match will take place in Jujuy, which is nicknamed the ‘little silver cup’. Jujuy is famous for its salt-fields and is the hometown of former Argentina international Ariel Ortega. The venue, Estadio 23 de Agosto, is home to Gimnasia y Esgrima de Jujuy – who wear the same colours as the Argentina national team – and is also where Japan will play their next match against Bolivia.

Bolivia experienced a difficult World Cup qualifying campaign, finishing second to bottom with just Peru below them. Despite this they will have a slight home-field advantage, with Jujuy actually closer to Bolivia (290km) than it is to Buenos Aires (1,525km).  The Bolivians will also be more used to the altitude, although, at 1,259 metres it is not quite as severe as La Paz. Their main threat will be Marcelo Moreno Martins, their half-Brazilian striker who plays for Shakhtar Donetsk.

Finally, hopefully with 6 points already in the bag, Japan will head south to Cordoba where they will face Argentina for top spot in the group!

Cordoba is situated exactly in the middle of Argentina and is the hometown of former Shimizu S-Pulse coach Ossie Ardiles and 1978 World Cup top scorer Mario Kempes – after whom the city’s Copa America venue is named.

Argentina are tied with Uruguay for the most Copa America titles (14), although they haven’t triumphed since 1993 – the last major trophy they won.

Sergio Batista – who was caretaker boss for the 1-0 defeat in Saitama in October and is now in permanent charge – played in Japan for Tosu Futures in the 1995/96 season, and, like Zaccheroni, will still be in the relatively early stages of forming his team.

As such, while Argentina is sure to be full of household names, it is likely that there may be one or two new faces in action come July. Seba’s one-to-watch is Palermo’s Javier Pastore, who is from Cordoba and so sure to receive a warm reception from the home fans.

The Copa America falls in the off-season for the European leagues so most of Japan’s big names will probably be able to travel, and the J.League’s finest will also be available with the division taking a break for the tournament.

Having been in Guangzhou for the past month watching Takashi Sekizuka’s U21 team at the Asian Games, I would personally like to see a couple of those players given a chance too though – particularly captain Kazuya Yamamura and, of course, the much-feted Kensuke Nagai.

The on-field antics sure to be taking place in South America will be a million miles away from the University leagues back in Japan, and the opportunity to learn more about the ‘nasty’ side of the game would aid their development greatly.

Such first-hand experience would also be vital for these players when bearing in mind that that many of them will be hoping to be involved in the next World Cup in Brazil just three years later.




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