Posts Tagged ‘アジア大会

31
Dec
10

Where’s the Endo the road?

I wanted to write a season review and look ahead to the next one for my last Soccer Magazine column of 2010. The congested structure of the Japanese football season made this a little tricky though…

As I sat on the plane to England for my hard-earned Christmas holiday I began to write this week’s column. Seeing as the 2010 season has almost concluded and the New Year is fast approaching, a reflection on the past season and look forward to the next initially seemed like a good idea.

Then I stumbled upon a problem. Just when did the last season begin, when would it finish and when exactly would the new one begin? I began to go through my notes and searched for a period in the last year-and-a-half when there hadn’t been any Japanese football taking place.

It turned out there hadn’t been one, and there wasn’t going to be for some time to come.

To demonstrate the intensity of the schedule, put yourself into the shoes of Endo Yasuhito for a moment.

The 2009 J.League season started in March and officially came to an end with a 2-0 victory over JEF last December, but there was still the Emperor’s Cup which didn’t conclude until New Year’s Day 2010.

A couple of weeks after winning that he was training with the national team in preparation for the East Asian Championship and just 10 days after China secured victory at Kokuritsu he was back in action for Gamba, playing against Suwon in Korea in the ACL.

The 2010 J.League season was then underway, but, mercifully, after just 12 rounds of matches there was a break. Oh, not for Yatto, as this ‘break’ was for the World Cup and he was off to South Africa (via Switzerland and Austria).

After playing every minute for Okada san at the tournament there was still no time to put his feet up as J.League games were back on and his team needed him after a fairly miserable showing in the first part of the season. 

He helped to turn things around for Nishino san, got his regular spot in the J.League Best Eleven and can finally look forward to…the Emperor’s Cup. Again?! Oh well, just three more matches at the most and then he can take some time off.

But wait! The Asian Cup! 

OK, if he can just put it in in Qatar and then surely he can take it easy for a little while?

Oh no, hang on, then the 2011 ACL and J.League season will be getting underway, then there’s another ‘break’ – this time for the Copa America – the end of the J.League, probably the Emperor’s Cup (there’s always the Emperor’s Cup – if only he had Tulio’s timing when it came to injuries)…it never seems to end – and potentially won’t until January 2012, almost three years after this sequence began.

This, of course, is an extreme case but it demonstrates wonderfully the problems that the current fixture list makes possible for the best Japanese players.

Also, while only a small minority of players take part in this whole schedule, the J.League as a whole is not helped by all of these mini-breaks which disrupt the flow of the season and detract from the momentum of the title chase and relegation battle.

The only answer, in my opinion, has to be a shift to the European August – May season.

This would not interfere with Japan’s major bi-annual tournaments (the Asian Cup – interestingly, with the 2022 World Cup in mind – is only being held in January this time because of the intensity of Qatar’s summer) and commitments such as the East Asian Championship could always be used to provide University or fringe players with vital national team experience.

The Nabisco Cup could cease it’s group format and become a simple knockout competition – which would make it easier for it and the Emperor’s Cup to run within the regular season – and it would also mean that clubs could easier deal with the increasingly frequent loss of their best players to the European leagues, with their departures coming in the Japanese off-season, rather than in the very middle.

Bringing about such changes would surely provide J.League players with more recuperation time and, most importantly, give the league the chance to run consistently, from start to finish with no breaks – which can only be a good thing for all concerned.

10
Dec
10

Future looks bright for Japanese football

Last month I saw a great deal of the Japan U21s and the Nadeshiko in action at the Asian Games in Guangzhou – where both picked up gold. The success of the two sides, in particular Takashi Sekizuka’s Olympic team, consequently provided the topic of discussion for my Soccer Magazine column this week.

As I mentioned briefly in last week’s column, I spent most of November in China covering the men’s and women’s football tournaments at the Asian Games in Guangzhou. I would like to congratulate both the U21s and Nadeshiko on winning the country’s first ever gold medals in the competition; the future looks very bright for Japanese football.

Takashi Sekizuka’s Olympic team was particularly impressive and, while developing a winning mentality at such a young age is key, it was not just their ultimate success that pleased me, but more so the way that they went about it.

I was in Tianhe Stadium for their first match against China, and it would have been very easy for the players to have buckled under the pressure in such a hostile atmosphere. The team remained calm and focused though, settling quickly and more than matching the physicality of their opponents.

Having established an early foothold in the game, they went on to comfortably defeat the hosts 3-0, thanks largely to the directness of their sharp, incisive attacks.

Instrumental in this display were captain Kazuya Yamamura and striker Kensuke Nagai.

Yamamura controlled the midfield effortlessly, commanding respect in the midst of the action and maintaining an astonishing level of composure when in possession for one so inexperienced.

Nagai, meanwhile, had me very excited indeed. The soon-to-be-ex Fukuoka University player displayed many of the traits that are all too often lacking in Japanese forwards, most noticeably that he is always trying to score. Whenever he had the ball he would look to commit defenders and create a scoring chance, and his attitude was epitomised in his comments after the victory over China.

Despite having every reason to be more than content with his performance and the plaudits it had evoked, he instead fired a warning to the rest of the competition.

“I am happy to have scored one and set one up today but I feel I can do more. I want to score in the next game as well.”

This he did, claiming the opener against Malaysia and eventually going on to become the top-scorer in the competition, with five goals in his six games.

It was nice to see a proper striker leading the line with such gusto, and the rest of the team did not shirk their responsibilities either with Japan’s 17 goals coming from an astonishing 10 different scorers.

This included a couple from defenders – including Yuki Saneto’s decider in the tense final with an impressive UAE side.

Saneto’s goal was not only remarkable for being his first ever for the national team but it also bore a strange similarity to that converted by Azusa Iwashimizu in the women’s gold medal match a few days earlier.

Both players wore the number 2 shirts, the ball entered the same side of the same goal at the same end of the ground for both players, with Iwashimizu scoring in the 73rd minute, while Saneto’s came just a minute later!

There was a vibrancy to the U21s as a whole, and the likes of Ryohei Yamazaki, Kota Mizunuma, Keigo Higashi and Hotaru Yamaguchi – all of whom also got on the scoresheet at some point – were industrious, enthusiastic and positive throughout.

As well as clicking on the attack, the defences of both Japanese teams were solid and the women didn’t concede at all, while the men only let in one goal in the competition.

In addition to performing well between the sticks, goalkeeper Shunsuke Ando also proved to be a breath of fresh air in the mixed zone, offering up honest opinions (such as stating his wish to play South Korea in the final, and declaring that Japan would beat them if they did), and allowing volunteers to pose with his hard-earned gold medal after the final match!

Discipline was important to the team’s triumph, but so too was spontaneity, and I sincerely hope that Zaccheroni – who was a smiling presence pitchside as the team received their medals – allows the players that do graduate to the top team to retain the open and relaxed attitudes that were on display in Guangzhou as they progress up the ranks.




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