Posts Tagged ‘ヴァンフォーレ甲府

06
Dec
11

My Team of the Year

Last night was the J.League’s annual awards ceremony, where the official word was had on the best of the 2011 season. For this week’s Soccer Magazine I decided to pick my Best XI (and a substitutes bench, just to cover my back a little).

A 4-1-2-2-1 (ish) formation best suited the players I went for – although I did have to crowbar a couple into slightly unfamiliar positions – and I tried my best to take into account players’ individual achievements rather than those of their club as a whole.

Anyway, enough excuses, here’s my team.

Goalkeeper: Takuto Hayashi (Vegalta Sendai): Ever-present in the league and a fantastic presence between the posts. Kept clean sheets in nearly half of his matches and provided a great base for the side to build from and enjoy their best ever season.

Right Back: Hiroki Sakai (Kashiwa Reysol): A constant threat when his side is attacking and supplements his aggressive and direct approach play with fantastic crossing ability. Doesn’t shirk at the back either, and is the model of the modern full-back.

Centre Back: Makoto Kakuda (Vegalta Sendai): Strong in the tackle, a good organiser and, like his goalkeeper, has been integral to Vegalta’s success. Has also chipped in with a couple of goals and assists and isn’t afraid of the physical side of the game at either end of the pitch.

Centre Back: Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Nagoya Grampus): Still an intimidating presence at the heart of the Grampus defence. Not the quickest and, yes, he does get too much respect from referees and opponents alike, but his attitude has helped to build that persona and his performances invariably back it up.

Left Back: Jorge Wagner (Kashiwa Reysol): OK, he’s not really a left-back but that’s where he started the season and it’s where he’d play in my team. Always uses the ball intelligently and rarely loses possession. On top of that his goal tally is in the double figures.

Defensive Midfield: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka): Yet again he has been the conductor in the Gamba midfield. Always composed and totally controls the pace of the game, as well as popping up with numerous defence-splitting passes and timely goals. Pure class.

Central Midfield: Takuya Nozawa (Kashima Antlers): Usually lines up wider and further forward but, in this hypothetical team, I would use him more centrally. Another calm-and-collected player who is always thinking two or three passes ahead. Scored or set up nearly half of Antlers’ goals.

Central Midfield: Leandro Domingues (Kashiwa Reysol): Like Nozawa and Endo, Domingues is responsible for controlling the speed at which his team plays. Comfortable when collecting the ball from his defenders or in the final third and deadly in front of goal.

Right Midfield: Genki Haraguchi (Urawa Reds): A coach at Reds suggested to me earlier in the season that without Genki Urawa would already be in J2. At the time that seemed a little bit of an exaggeration but if it weren’t for his guts and goals then just think where the side would be…

Left Midfield: Ryang Yong-gi (Vegalta Sendai): Yet another great leader – can you have too many? – who plays with fantastic poise. His set-pieces provide a constant threat but he can do it in play too. Never flustered in possession and knows exactly when to release the ball and when to delay the pass.

Striker: Mike Havenaar (Ventforet Kofu): Other players perhaps have better all-round play, but his scoring record for a side at the bottom of the table is an incredible achievement. Has struck a wide variety of goals, and is about much more than his height. 

Subs: Hiroki Iikura (Yokohama F. Marinos), Naoya Kondo (Kashiwa Reysol), Wataru Hashimoto (Kashiwa Reysol); Shingo Hyodo (Yokohama F. Marinos), Hiroki Yamada (Jubilo Iwata); Josh Kennedy (Nagoya Grampus), Lee Keun-ho (Jubilo Iwata)

That’s my team, and I’m sure that you’ll have spotted many ridiculous inclusions and glaring omissions. Please feel free to point them out and tell me who you’d have in your side, either below the line or on Twitter @seankyaroru.

03
Dec
11

J.League title race goes to the wire

Today the 2011 J.League season comes to a close with three teams still in with a chance of becoming champions.

One of Kashiwa Reysol, Nagoya Grampus and Gamba Osaka will be celebrating this evening, and my preview explaining all the permutations can be found here.

15
Sep
11

Size isn’t important…

… it’s what you do with it that counts.

I would like to start this week’s column with a question: can anybody tell me, without looking it up, how tall Yasuhito Endo is? How about Yuichi Komano?

I doubt whether many of you knew either of those answers (Endo is 178cm and Komano just 172 – yes, I had to check) but I’m fairly certain that most people could tell me the height of Japan’s newest striker, to give him his full name, “194 senchi Mike Havenaar.”

I know that Havenaar is tall, you can tell that by looking at him. I am also aware of the fact that his height is fairly unusual in Japan and, in certain circumstances, would be a useful nugget of information to pass on.

Quite why television commentators feel the need to tell us nigh-on every time they mention his name is beyond me, though.

Fortunately I was at Saitama Stadium when he made his debut so I was spared during the North Korea game, but watching the Uzbekistan match on TV I lost count of the number of times “194 senchi Mike Havenaar” was referred to.

It reminded me a little of England’s Peter Crouch who we were frequently told “had good feet for a big man”. The assumption that being tall instantly means you should be rubbish with your feet is about as incorrect as the one which states that short players are not strong enough, or indeed that tall players are inherently better at heading.

Crouch dwarfs Havenaar, standing at 201cm, but he’s actually pretty rubbish in the air, and his poor timing and lack of control over his gangly frame mean he usually ends up fouling his marker or heading off target – if he makes contact with the ball at all.

Mike is not that bad, but of his 11 goals in the league prior to his national team call-up seven had been slotted home with his feet (primarily his left).

Of course, his aerial presence, like that of Nagoya Grampus’ Josh Kennedy, has also been a useful weapon for his club side in their fight to stay in J1, but he, like Kennedy, is about more than that – something that Grampus head coach Dragan Stojkovic referred to after Havenaar inspired Kofu to victory against his side earlier in the season.

“Mike played very well today, the best example for my strikers,” he said in the wake of the 3-1 defeat, in which Havenaar scored (with his left foot). “How one striker should move and fight. It’s very difficult to stop a striker who is always moving, not easy to mark.”

His technical abilities, as well as his stature, do provide an alternative option for Zac Japan, and after coming on in both of the recent qualifiers he did mix things up and cause problems for the opposing defences.

This was particularly useful considering the absence of Keisuke Honda, whose capacity to look after the ball and ease the pressure on the defence is so important for the national team, and was referred to ahead of the North Korea game by Shinji Okazaki.

“Honda has a great talent for holding the ball up and all of the players know that if we are in trouble we can pass to Keisuke; he is the safety ball,” the Stuttgart forward said. “If he is absent then we lose that option.”

Without that out-ball on offer Japan had to rethink slightly, and having struggled with their short, quick passing game the introduction of Havenaar from the bench did provide a more direct alternative.

The 24-year-old very nearly made a dream impact, striking a right-footed effort onto the bar shortly after coming on, and when I spoke to him after the game he seemed comfortable with the expectations that come with his height (although he doesn’t have to listen to the commentators while he’s playing, does he).

“The last five minutes we started to kick long balls to me but the plan was to work from the side and to get crosses in,” he explained. “I knew we were going to win but I hope that I could have scored.”

And if his performances this season are anything to go by he surely will. But not because he is 194cm, so please stop telling us.

07
Sep
11

Stage is set for Shizuoka Derby

Earlier in the season the Shizuoka Derby made the headlines for all of the wrong reasons. The return fixture is this weekend and promises to be a good’un…

This Saturday is the most eagerly anticipated Shizuoka Derby for years.

While both Jubilo and Shimizu have had more successful seasons in the past, contesting the biggest prizes in the Japanese game, this match is special because there is something perhaps more important at stake; local pride.

To an extent this is always on the line in derbies, but the clash at Ecopa Stadium is the first time the sides have squared off since the incident involving the “Ghotbi Stop Making Nuclear Bombs” banner at Nihondaira in May, and as a result the atmosphere is sure to be electric.

While that matter is now officially closed – with Afshin Ghotbi having taken it in his stride, Jubilo banning the fans responsible and Shimizu reprimanding their supporters who became involved – the scars are not completely healed.

S-Pulse fan Daisuke Matsura, for example – one of the nearly 30 Shimizu supporters who forced their way into the Jubilo end to demand the banner and were subsequently handed three-match bans by S-Pulse – cannot wait for the match.

Matsura accepted his punishment – which encompassed the league games at home to Albirex and away to Cerezo, and the Nabisco Cup clash with Ventforet at Nihondaira – and explained to me why he and his fellow supporters broke stadium rules and entered the away section.

“We knew what would happen to us (banned from few home games) if we reacted under such a situation, but we soon decided to go and stop the Iwata supporters.  It was all for our pride against them because it was derby day and not to allow them behave as they wanted in our home stadium. 

“Many people may think that we rushed towards the Jubilo side right away, but that’s wrong. My fellow supporters and I actually had a brief discussion if we would really go or not before we started running to the other side. 

“What happened in the Iwata side was far away from violence at all.  No one got injured from either group of supporters. Us Shimizu supporters simply asked them to stop and give up the banner. Of course, the Iwata supporters didn’t respond right away.” 

Although obviously angered by the content of the banner he admits to understanding the potential motivation behind it, and suggests that if the Jubilo fans had expressed themselves differently the incident may not have become so out of hand.

“I guess they tried to show their intense hate towards Shimizu on the derby day.  I kind of understand this feeling because we have that feeling as well towards Iwata.  But I guess they just picked a wrong way to show it. If it was some sort of insulting chant, I guess we could take it differently.”

An instance of verbal abuse has also made headlines this season though – with Kofu’s Mike Havenaar allegedly being racially abused at Kashiwa’s Hitachi Dai Stadium.

While no culprit has been officially identified by the club, several of the core Reysol fans have since been served with lifetime bans for “repeated bad behaviour”.

Matsura is adamant that there are no problems of racism creeping onto Japanese stands on the scale of the scenes witnessed in Russia (Roberto Carlos had a banana thrown in his direction while playing for Anzhi Makhachkala) or Belgium (where Japan No. 1 Eiji Kawashima was subjected to a “Fukushima” taunt last month), though.

“There are actually a few supporters in all clubs who behave impulsively, but they are still a minority in J.League stands” he says.

And although he and his fellow fans are fired up for this game against their local rivals he insists that no specific acts of retribution are on the cards.

“This incident will surely have increased our tension, especially for those who actually got involved and banned.  At this point, we are not preparing anything. You might see some banners and actions in Shimizu stands, but they would be nothing special, I guess.”

While there may be ‘nothing special’ planned it is sure to be a heated occasion, and with S-Pulse’s new marquee signing Freddie Ljungberg also looking set to be making his debut in the game as well  all the ingredients are in place for a cracking game of football.

08
Jul
11

The only way is up

The 2012 season will see the final promotion place from J2 decided by an English Championship-esque play-off, and as the level of the league continues to improve I think it’s a very good idea.

 

The J.League recently announced plans to introduce a play-off system in J2 from the 2012 season, meaning that the teams finishing third to sixth would all be in with a chance of moving up to the top-flight.

While opinion is fairly divided on this – with some asking how the sixth-placed side is likely to fare in J1 when considering the abysmal top-flight form of Avispa Fukuoka, who came third in J2 in 2010 – I am all for it and think that anything which adds to the competitiveness of the second tier is good for the Japanese game.

Avispa have certainly struggled – and nothing short of a miracle will keep them from relegation this year – but prior to them the only side to have moved up to J1 from the final promotion place and been relegated straight away is Shonan Bellmare.

Before this season 11 other teams, including Shonan, had come up in the last available spot and four of them – Reds, Omiya, Kobe and Yamagata – are still there. Four  more – Sendai, Cerezo, Sanfrecce and Kofu – went back down but are now re-established in the top-flight, while the final two sides are last year’s relegated pair of FC Tokyo and Kyoto Sanga – the former of whom are strong favourites to make a return next season.

Although they have recovered slightly from their far from impressive start to life back in the second division, Tokyo’s promotion is definitely not a foregone conclusion though, and the growing competitiveness of J2 was demonstrated by JEF’s failure to gain an instant return last year.

JEF’s head coach Dwight Lodeweges is well aware of the difficulty in gaining promotion, and insisted before the season that just being a big club is not enough to secure a spot in the top-flight.

“It’s not just a name that brings you back or does well or keeps you in J1. We have to do the right things. What I’m trying to do now is to build a foundation but it just doesn’t happen like that, it’s not just like pushing a button and there you go. We have to do the right things and make the right choices.”

Alongside JEF and FC Tokyo this year’s J2 also features two more giants of the Japanese game who could be revitalized by a return to the top table, in Tokyo Verdy and Yokohama FC – although both sides are admittedly shadows of their former selves at this moment in time.

Add to these the likes of Tochigi, Sagan Tosu, Tokushima Vortis and Roasso Kumamoto and you have almost half a division who have either the tradition or ability – or both – to make a go of it in J1.

Indeed, the introduction of a play-off system as opposed to three automatic promotion spots may actually help sides with the ambition of gaining promotion.

While, of course, it would be foolish to claim that any team had ever achieved promotion by accident, it could be suggested that some teams have made the step-up after a season of over-achievement – which they had perhaps not fully anticipated before the first ball was kicked. 

If teams know that there are twice as many berths available with the potential to take them to J1 though, then they may be able to better equip themselves for life in the top tier if and when they get there.

The instant success enjoyed by Cerezo, Sanfrecce and, so far, Reysol after re-joining J1 backs up this argument, with each team having had promotion as their realistic target throughout their season in the second tier. 

Just as importantly, if not more so, play-offs would also add to the excitement in the division by ensuring that more teams actually have something to play for as the season nears its climax. (Relegation, something else that I believe urgently needs to be introduced, would also serve this aim).

Furthermore, just because the sixth-placed team is in with a chance of gaining promotion to J1 it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will take it, and they’ll still have to beat two of the teams above them to earn the right.

And, anyway, even if they do they can’t really do any worse than Avispa, can they?

04
Jun
11

Pixy’s players in need of a pick-me-up

Keeping rich and successful players motivated is a challenge that many of the best managers in the world have struggled with. Nagoya Grampus’ Dragan Stojkovic  – frequently linked with the Japanese national team job, and even succeeding Arsene Wenger at Arsenal – will need to earn his stripes this season, with several of his players  seemingly living off past glories…

Last week I wrote about the positive improvement in the mental attitude of Atsuto Uchida over the past12 months.

While Ucchi and several of his Samurai Blue teammates continue to grow overseas though there is something of a problem back home in the J.League

After seven rounds of matches (although they do have one game in hand) Nagoya Grampus – such a force last season and champions by a margin of 10 points – sat level with Ventforet Kofu in the league; already themselves 10 points behind the league-leaders Kashiwa Reysol.

Of course, it is still very early in the season and there is plenty of time for them to pick up and for the early pacesetters to fall away.

However, they have three problems which need to be overcome quickly if they are to replicate their fantastic achievement of 2010.

The first of these problems is not mental it is actual; the number of injuries in the squad.

Pixy insists that the team’s training methods have not changed and so there is, in truth, not so much that can be done to remedy the situation except for making sure that players are not rushed back and that when they are all fit the squad is rotated sensibly and everyone is kept as fresh as possible.

In the meantime the coach has to earn his yen by getting the best out of the players at his disposal.

The second issue – and one which seems to have affected Kashima and Cerezo as well, although interestingly not Gamba – is the ACL and ‘tiredness’.

Now, I’m sorry, I know that travelling can have an affect on physical condition but considering the break that the J.League took and the fact that they have rarely had to play two games a week this season I am not buying this excuse.

Instead of being physically drained I would suggest that some, not all, of the players have mentally convinced themselves that they are tired.

Going into a game in Kofu less than four days after playing in UAE, for instance, sounds tough doesn’t it? And, to an extent it is.

If you keep telling yourself it is then you go into the game with a weight on your shoulders, though. If you put such thoughts out of your mind and concentrate on the game at hand it is unlikely you will struggle so much.

Pixy expressed similar concerns over the psychological approach of his players, dismissing the impact of the continental competition on his side’s defeat to Kofu and challenging his players to rise above such excuses.

“I’m sorry, but this is not an excuse. As a professional you need give your best for 90 minutes. Tired or not tired, hot or not hot. You have to prepare yourself; you are a professional, you have to give your best.”

And ‘giving your best’ brings us onto the final, and most worrying, concern.

Grampus’ success last season was built upon a tremendous togetherness and a work-ethic and defiance that drove them on to become champions.

That grit is lacking this season, and Pixy has hinted at fears that some members of the squad are merely coasting.

“My players, they have to forget everything that happened last year if they want to make a good result this year. They have to forget absolutely everything from last year,” he emphasized. “We are champions, but we are champions of 2010, not 2011.”

“This is a completely different story, a completely different championship, so only if we think like that can we can expect a good result. If we, or some of them, are satisfied with the result from last year then it will be very, very hard.”

One of the best in the world at motivating successful players is Sir Alex Ferguson, about whom David Beckham once said the following. 

“The good thing about [Sir Alex is that] he makes you move on. As soon as you have won a medal he does not stop there, he makes you want more.” 

Ensuring such a response is something that the coach must bring about, then, and if Pixy’s players do not have that drive themselves it is something he must instill in them as quickly as possible.

04
Mar
11

J.League 2011 Season Preview

On Saturday the 2011 J.League season kicks off so this week I provided a preview for The Daily Yomiuri, which can be found by following the links below.

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228004857.htm

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228004904.htm

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228003025.htm




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