Posts Tagged ‘ショーン・キャロル

17
Jul
12

Decisions, decisions

The end of this season will see the final team promoted to J1 afforded that right by virtue of an English Chamionship style play-off. Well, sort of…

Last summer I wrote about the introduction of a play-off system to J2 and how I thought it would hugely benefit the division.

Just past the halfway point of the 2012 season it looks like I was right, with far more teams in-and-around the key positions this year.

After 21 games (the new midpoint after the division grew to 22 teams) the distance between first and 11th was just 10 points, while, currently, after 24 games, the top 10 are separated by that margin.

At the halfway stage last year (19 games) Consadole Sapporo, in 6th, were the last team to be within 10 points of the leaders. Tosu, who eventually earned promotion with Consadole were just one point further back.

Whereas teams may not have overly rated their chances with only three places up for grabs in 2011, the fact that twice as many spots for potential promotion are available this year has resulted in almost double the number of teams being in striking distance of J1.

It seems that the chasing pack are picking up a stronger scent of potential success.

Of course that is not the only explanation, and it could quite reasonably be argued that the openness of the division is also down to no one side being able to establish themselves as the team to beat.

I’ve seen a fair few J2 matches this season and while the standard is obviously below that of the first division I’ve enjoyed most of them.

The games increasingly offer up good entertainment, although this is not always because of especially good play but often because of the opposite.

Decision-making is absolutely vital in football and far too frequently at the lower levels attacks break down or chances are afforded to the opposition because a player makes the wrong one.

The best example of this came when two of the sides jostling at the top of the table, Tokyo Verdy and JEF United, came head to head last month.

JEF were the better side but made consistently poor choices, while Verdy were much sharper and efficient when they had the ball and deservedly took the three points.

A couple of weeks later the tables had turned, with JEF the far more incisive team in their home game against Kyoto Sanga.

The visitors bossed possession but couldn’t make it count, and before Takeshi Oki’s team knew what had happened they were 3-0 down.

Takeshi Okada’s former right-hand man said after that defeat that his team had “collapsed” after conceding the first goal, and despite a spirited late revival they still returned to Kansai on the wrong end of a 3-2 defeat.

That wasn’t the first time they’d had that feeling, and I have also seen them leave it too late against Gainare Tottori and Yokohama FC this year, as well as conceding a late, late goal to lose at Shonan Bellmare.

A lack of composure has seen a talented group of players too easily affected by the flow of the game when steadier heads may well have kept calm to claim the win.

It is not only the players who have been making peculiar decisions, and although the J.League should be commended for having introduced the play-offs they, too, have also made some slightly strange calls with regards to the format.

Giving the higher ranked teams a slight advantage by hosting the one-legged semi-finals at their stadiums is understandable – if a little unfair – but deciding to award the victory to that side if the game ends in  draw is bizarre.

The final, too, will be contested in that manner – albeit at a neutral venue – which not only weighs the tie heavily in the favour of the team that finishes 3rd (or 4th, if an upset takes place in one of the semi-finals) but also raises the possibility of a fairly dour showpiece.

One team will know that a draw is enough to ensure their promotion and so may very well enter the game with a suitably unadventurous mindset; in short, like England.

However, all the teams know this is how things will be decided so are well aware of the value of finishing as high as possible.

Hopefully that will ensure that the action remains this close and unpredictable right up until the final exchanges.

13
Jul
12

Reality check / Nadeshiko fuel expectations, men’s U-23 deflate hopes in pre-Olympic friendlies

Japan’s men’s and women’s teams both played send-off matches at Tokyo National Stadium this week ahead of their respective campaigns at the London Olympics.

After Nadeshiko Japan’s game v. Australia and the Under-23’s match with New Zealand I gathered reaction from the coaches and players of all four sides involved for The Daily Yomiuri.

11
Jul
12

Not playing the percentages

There is an increasing tendency to consider games of football in a very systematic way. Numbers and percentages are all well and good, but sometimes you can’t beat a good old-fashioned humdinger… 

Wherever possible I try not to write about specific games in this column.

The instant nature of the internet and social media means that by the time you get around to reading my views the match is already old news, but this week I really want to talk about the recent clash between Vegalta Sendai and Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

At kick-off Vegalta were top of the table and a formidable side who’d lost just once at home, while swashbuckling Sanfrecce boasted the league’s top-scorer in Hisato Sato and knew a win would take them into first place.

Often such games result in fairly cautious affairs – as evident the previous week when all of the top four drew their matches 0-0 – but that was not the case in Sendai, where these two produced a breathless contest.

Yurtec Stadium is, in my opinion, the best football venue in Japan, and I am always happy to have the opportunity to travel up to Tohoku.

The extra meaning taken on by Vegalta in the aftermath of last year’s tragedy has been well documented, and some subtle yet powerful posters in the underground at Sendai station (including one reading “We can hear your big support, we are not alone”) reinforced the role that the team has played in the recovery process.

The Sanfrecce fans unravelled a banner during the warm-up reading, “Let’s get to the summit together and enjoy the view”, but the home supporters weren’t going to let their team give up top spot easily, and their stirring rendition of “Country Road” had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.

Obviously buoyed by the incredible atmosphere in the stadium both teams started at a frantic pace, and while Sanfrecce made the slightly better chances it was Vegalta who opened the scoring when Wilson slotted coolly home after just 11 minutes.

They refused to sit on their lead though, and were pegged back right on the stroke of half-time when Sato was on hand to net Sanfrecce’s equaliser.

At that point both sides could have been forgiven for taking their feet of the gas a little but, thankfully, neither did.

Sato emerged from the tunnel at the start of the second half with a gesture to the away fans to double their efforts, and their response ensured that the teams picked up exactly where they’d left off.

A crunching tackle from Kazuhiko Chiba on Wilson caused a coming together on the halfway line which included Mihael Mikic and Vegalta coach Makoto Teguramori – who I can’t help but think of as the Japanese “Big” Sam Allardyce – and 10 minutes later Koji Morisaki put Sanfrecce in front immediately after coming on as a sub.

The home supporters weren’t giving up, though, and as deafening cries of “Sendai! Let’s Go!” reverberated around the ground the other Morisaki twin, Kazuyuki, underhit a back-pass to Shusaku Nishikawa and inadvertently played in Wilson for his second of the game.

Even after all of this toing-and-froing the teams and their fans continued to go all out for the win, and it looked like Sanfrecce were going to get it when substitute Hironori Ishikawa beat the offside trap and closed in on Takuto Hayashi’s goal.

While his powerful strike beat the big ‘keeper it didn’t find the back of the net, instead cannoning back off of the bar and ensuring that things ended all square.

That was a fittingly dramatic end to what was undoubtedly the best game I’ve seen so far this season, and although they’d seen their lead trimmed a little, these two deserved to remain in the top two places at the end of the round.

There has been a lot of talk over the past few weeks about the “right” way to play football, with Spain being accused in some quarters of being boring.

I don’t for a second share that view, but while the Euros were being discussed in terms of formations, ball possession and pass completion rates it was nice to head to the stadium and see a contest with scraps, mistakes and goals aplenty.

Intricate and organised teams can be great to watch, but in terms of pure enjoyment you really can’t beat a game where two teams throw caution to the wind and just go at it.

08
Jul
12

Gonda has mind set on bringing back gold medal

Shuichi Gonda played in all of Japan’s qualifiers for the London Olympics and, despite a late scare, is now looking forward to testing himself against some of the world’s best players.

On Thursday I spoke to the FC Tokyo goalkeeper about his memories of and targets for the Games, his reaction to Akihiro Hayashi’s late challenge for the No. 1 jersey, and his thoughts ahead of the team’s opening game against a star-studded Spain.

04
Jul
12

Girls on film

Thousands and thousands of Japanese women watch, play and love football. Despite this it seems that they are not qualified to comment on the game on TV…

The relationship between women and football in Japan is a rather odd one.

Compared to most other countries the number of female supporters in the stadium every weekend is huge – with around 50% of those at games being women.

Also, with Nadeshiko Japan a genuine force within the world game and riding high on a wave of good publicity, women’s football is taken far more seriously here than it is in a lot more “developed” footballing nations.

There are several established female journalists covering the game in Japan, too, and every Japanese football broadcast features a female face.

Unfortunately, though, this is all-too-often the only thing they provide.

While the men alongside them tackle the serious issue of the game (well, they say “sugoi desu ne” (amazing) and “ii na” (good) a lot, if TBS’s coverage of the Euros is anything to go by), the woman in the studio is required to do little more than smile and introduce the start of the game: “sore de ha, kohan desu!” (so, here comes the second half).

The way in which they are treated as no more than decoration is embarrassing, and while employing attractive females to sit and look pretty is hardly unique to Japan, the fact it takes place – and is accepted – so frequently in a country where so many women have an interest in the game is astonishing.

On first impressions England would not perhaps seem the best example to use as a comparison – with Sky Sports populating its 24-hour news channel with, in the words of The Guardian’s Barney Ronay, “impossibly beautiful robo-babes” – but there are also females on English TV who play more active roles.

The likes of Gabby Logan and Helen Chamberlain, for instance, present popular football shows on which they take part in discussions about and offer opinions on the game, and the idea of football as a “man’s game” is treated as an increasingly old-fashioned way of thinking.

In early 2011, for instance, Sky’s main presenting duo of Richard Keys and Andy Gray were caught making sexist comments about a female linesman ahead of a Premier League match (including the suggestion that she wouldn’t understand the offside law), after which several other pieces of footage highlighting their derogatory attitudes towards women came to light.

They were duly removed from their jobs and roundly criticised for their idiotic behaviour – with most people finding it amusing that the pair genuinely seemed to think an individual’s gender would hamper their ability to understand football.

Such attitudes – while not justifiable, and certainly dying out – are a little less surprising in countries where females were not generally involved in the initial stages of football’s development.

When the J.League was launched in 1993, though, it was marketed at everyone, irrespective of their sex. There is, then, very little cause for such outdated views to be the norm in Japan.

The subject is undoubtedly one that can be discussed in the far wider context of Japanese society – but for the purposes of this article let’s keep the focus on the grinning-but-opinionless anchors on TV.

Aside from the blatant sexism on display, I have three main problems with the way the roles are allocated.

Firstly, as I have already touched upon, the men in the studio often provide absolutely zero analysis themselves, and so the suggestion that they are there to provide the content to counter the announcer’s form is laughable.

Secondly, while I readily admit that some of the girls in question – having been recruited from general talent agencies – probably don’t have much football knowledge, this is not always the case.

I have enjoyed several conversations with female announcers who perfectly understand the game, and I’m frequently frustrated when they are denied the chance to express those views on air.

Finally, what I find most bizarre is the way in which women such as Nami Otake are used.

Otake-san, as a former player, is granted the opportunity to discuss the finer points of matches, but only for women’s games.

Once the men’s matches are back on screen Otake-san is ushered out of the studio so a Johnnys fool can come in and gurn at the camera while repeating worn-out platitudes that offer no insight or enlightenment. Then the cute girl ushers in the commercials.

Sore de ha…

27
Jun
12

Sakai’s on the ball

Hiroki Sakai only played a quarter of his club’s matches in J2 in 2010, but two years on he’s on his way to Europe and has his sights set on a regular berth in the full national team…

On Sunday 7th March, 2010 I was at Hitachi Stadium with just over 7,500 other people to see Kashiwa Reysol beat Oita Trinita 2-1. 

Both teams were getting their seasons underway in J2 after being relegated in 2009, and each handed out seven J2 debuts as they looked to rebuild.

Hiroki Sakai was not among those making his first appearance in the second division – in fact he was still yet to appear at all in the J.League and would only go on to play in nine of Reysol’s 36 games as they romped to the title and an instant return to the top flight.

Two years later, however, and the explosive right-back has a J1 winner’s medal, has impressed at the Club World Cup, appeared for the full national team, and now earned a move to Europe.

I interviewed him towards the end of last season, and while he admitted that a transfer overseas would be hard to turn down, he didn’t seem sure that he was good enough.

“I want to aim for the highest level. If there was a chance I would of course want to go but I am not yet at that level,” he said.

“The team is good now so maybe that’s why I am able to perform well. During tough times I also want to see how much I can help and pull the team through. This I don’t know yet.”

His displays for a struggling Reysol team at the start of this season demonstrated that he can still perform when things aren’t going to plan, convincing Bundesliga side Hannover to part with €1 million for his services.

While Sakai may not have rated himself that highly, the Santos head coach Muricy Ramalho was clearly impressed after the semi-final of last year’s Club World Cup.

“Reysol were very good on the right flank,” he said after Sakai had capped another strong performance with a goal against the Copa Libertadores champions.

“Sakai was prowling that side so I had to adjust a few things,” Ramalho continued.

“He is a young player, very intelligent. This is, I think, his first season. I am sure he is learning a lot of things and if he can be patient he can do very well in the future.”

I spoke to Jorge Wagner about Sakai’s transfer after Reysol’s recent 4-2 win over Omiya Ardija, and he feels the 22-year-old’s move will be a huge loss for the Sun Kings.

“We have [Daisuke] Nasu and [Tatsuya] Masushima who can play at right-back, but Sakai has a very good understanding with Leandro [Domingues] so we will miss that combination,” he said.

While concerned for Reysol without Sakai, Wagner is convinced his teammate will be successful in Germany.

“He’s a very strong player – like a Brazilian full-back.”

This is perhaps not surprising, with Sakai having spent a period on loan in Sao Paolo with Mogi Mirim.

As well as improving on the pitch, Sakai told me last October how he used that opportunity to mature.

“I felt I had to get integrated into Brazilian culture. I had to forget and shed my Japanese culture and mix into the culture of Brazil,” he explained.

“When I went to Brazil if I didn’t try to integrate and just focussed on playing then in other situations away from training I would feel stress.

“By jumping straight in and trying to integrate that meant I didn’t feel stress when I was playing as well. That way I could concentrate on playing at a consistent level.”

I mentioned recently the pitfalls of not embracing your new surroundings after a move abroad, and Sakai’s understanding of this should stand him in good stead in Germany.

Next on his to-do list is the Olympics, after which he will surely be focusing on taking Atsuto Uchida’s right-back spot for the Samurai Blue.

When I asked him to compare himself to Uchida he highlighted the Schalke player’s experience overseas.

“I feel that he can play well against foreign players because of the fact that he plays abroad,” he said.

Sakai now does that, too, and judging by his success over the past two years it is hard not to see him making the position his own sooner rather than later.

20
Jun
12

Football Against Adversity: A Japanese Odyssey

The Inside Left is a new online football journal which, in their own words, is “dedicated to telling thought-provoking football stories – no news, gossip or reports, just the best comment, analysis and anecdotes from players, managers, supporters and a team of talented contributors who span the length and breadth of the globe, as well as the depths of the league pyramid.”

My small contribution to that grand aim was a piece on the increasing relevance of football to Japanese culture, something that was emphasised in the aftermath of the Great Tohoku Earthquake of March 11th, 2011.

20
Jun
12

Would the Samurai Blue slay the Three Lions?

Japan have the look of a well-oiled machine at the moment, while England continue to crunch functionally through the gears. This week I pondered who would come out on top if the two were to come head-to-head anytime soon…

After Japan got the final round of World Cup qualifiers off to a winning start with a 3-0 win over Oman I was asked an interesting question.

Somebody on twitter wondered who I thought would win between the Samurai Blue and England if they were to play a two-legged home and away contest.

My response was that surely Japan would be the favourites.

The manner in which they so easily overcame Oman and then destroyed Jordan should be taken with a pinch of salt, but, at the same time, it is an indicator of just how good this side is when compared to previous squads.

The team which did so well at the 2010 World Cup finals was impressive but far from convincing in the last stage of qualifying, drawing three times and winning just once at home.

While beating the team teams ranked 97th and 80th in the world looks fairly standard, then, for Japan such comfortable victories are not traditionally the norm.

Not only did they manage to gather the six points with a 9-0 aggregate scoreline but the swagger and poise with which they cast their opponents aside demonstrated that Alberto Zaccheroni’s team has tremendous belief in their own ability.

Contrast that with perhaps the least interesting England side in living memory and you can see why I would give Japan the edge.

24 hours before Keisuke Honda and co. picked up a strong point away to Australia to confirm their place at the top of Group B, the Three Lions bored the world to tears in an excruciating performance against France at the European Championships.

In Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck there was undoubted potential to attack a dodgy-looking French defence, but instead of trying their luck the English players opted for a ‘solid’ approach.

Part of this problem is undoubtedly mental – goalscorer (header from a free-kick, of course) Joleon Lescott commented after the match that, “You know what you will get with an English team – plenty of pride and passion” – but there was also a depressing lack of basic ability on display amongst those in the white shirt.

This was most obvious when James Milner failed to convert after rounding the keeper early on, and although the angle was tight, his rigidity and complete absence of technique wonderfully summed up the English style.

There is always plenty of talk in England about the impact that foreign imports to the Premier League have had on the domestic game, but the national team stubbornly refuses to move on from the idea that success comes from playing the game with “pride” and “passion.”

The steadily increasing contact between Japanese players and the European game is having a positive influence on the Samurai Blue, though.

Keisuke Honda, who was the pivot from which all of Japan’s positive play stemmed against Oman, Jordan, and Australia, was in no doubt as to why the current crop of players are the best he has been involved with.

“The reason is very simple,” he said after the demolition of Jordan. “Now we have many players who play overseas. Japanese players always like ball possession and passing but foreign football always attacks more directly.

“Yatto-san [Yasuhito Endo] and [Makoto] Hasebe-san have great passing skills and our attackers are very direct so that combination is very good for us.”

The Australia game provided a far sterner test – not least because the pitch in Brisbane had been used for a rugby match just three days earlier and the referee was seemingly taking charge of a football match for the first time – but Japan did well to deal with the Socceroos more “English” style of attack (long, high balls up front and crosses into the box at any opportunity).

I asked Yasuhito Endo after the Jordan game if this was the best Japan team he had played in, and while he didn’t go quite that far he did suggest it was unique.

“I feel that the national team is always very good but in this team we have many special players,” he said. “Opponents now are afraid of Japan.”

England would be no different, and Zac Japan could certainly teach Roy Hodgson’s team a thing or two about the beautiful game.

14
Jun
12

Steady play from Honda has Japan sitting pretty

Japan will be happy with their start to the final round of qualifying for the Brazil 2014 World Cup after picking up two home wins and earning a draw away to Australia.

Integral to that success was the side’s new number four, Keisuke Honda, who was in commanding form throughout the qualifiers. I considered his importance to the Samurai Blue – and a few other talking points – for The Daily Yomiuri.

13
Jun
12

Miyaichi-ban

Ryo Miyaichi has earned a lot of admirers in the past year-and-a-half, as much for his off-field performances as those on it…

I knew absolutely nothing about Ryo Miyaichi before he was plucked from the obscurity of Japanese High School football by Arsene Wenger back in 2010, and only kept half an eye on him when he was first loaned out to Feyenoord.

More and more Japanese players are making the journey west so I saw no reason to pay special attention to the former Chukyo Dai Chukyo winger.

To me the deal represented a fairly low-risk move by Arsenal: if he struggled to adapt he could easily be shipped out without anybody noticing, while Wenger would again be lauded for having an eye for natural – and cheap (or, more precisely, free) – talent if he turned out to be something special.

His impressive spells on loan at Feyenoord and then Bolton suggest that it may very well be the latter though, and his stock has risen even higher since he was called up to the national team by Alberto Zaccheroni for the final match in the third round of World Cup qualifying against Uzbekistan in Toyota.

I spoke to him in the mixed zone after that game, and gained my first real insight into what had enabled him to progress so rapidly through the ranks.

As well as being an obviously very gifted footballer, his mentality and personality hugely impressed me and he appears to have all the tools to fulfil his vast potential.

I asked if he was ok to try a conversation in English, fully expecting him to say no, but he smiled and said he’d give it a go.

He then expressed himself clearly and openly in his second language for several minutes, after just over a year outside of Japan, and it was clear he was having a lot of fun in England.

“I enjoy it every day, I can play at a higher level,” he said.

“I’m happy to play in the Premier League and also I’m living alone so I am really enjoying every day.”

After the match with Oman I spoke with his next-door neighbour in Bolton, the Wigan Athletic goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.

He, too, remarked upon Miyaichi’s personality.

“He’s really keen and he’s confident in himself and he can go forward,” he said.

“He’s still really, really young. At that age if you are at Arsenal that means you are a good player.”

I don’t socialise with them so can’t possibly claim to know for sure how other Japanese players in Europe spend their free time, but the impression is that many of them seem to relax together, in effect segregating themselves from their non-Japanese teammates.

As an Englishman living overseas I know full well how nice it is to spend time with people who share a common language and culture.

However, at the same time I know that I must put in the effort to truly benefit from and enjoy my time in Japan.

Miyaichi seems to have no problem with that side of living overseas.

Mixed zones – especially during national team camps, when papers and websites are in need of daily comments – tend to be fairly serious and stressful.

At a training session ahead of the Oman game though, I joined a group huddled around Miyaichi and was surprised to hear them discussing the Omani food that his neighbour had made for him.

Sensing a rare opportunity for some light-hearted conversation I asked what he thought of English cuisine.

I don’t really like English food,” he replied, almost apologetically.

This is a fairly common response (and completely incorrect one) but I persevered and – tongue-in-cheek – asked what his thoughts were on the traditional fish and chips.

Politely he said with a grin, “Fish and Chips is bad for you.”

Of course, such questioning is not exactly hard-hitting journalism.

Miyaichi’s relaxed and friendly manner is a breath of fresh air though, and the way he deals with the pressures of his newfound stardom off the pitch as well as on it mark him out as one who could really go on to achieve great things.

I did, however, discover something he’s not good at when I asked Al Habsi about the preparation of their dinners.

“I do all of it,” he laughed.

“He’s too young. He has to learn how to cook.”




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