Posts Tagged ‘岩清水梓

29
Aug
11

Getting in touch with our feminine side

Nadeshiko Japan didn’t only triumph by winning the World Cup, but they also brought out my softer side… 

They did it! Nadeshiko Japan are the World Champions and I would like to start this week’s column by congratulating everybody involved in Germany – from the coaches and players to backroom staff. What an incredible achievement.

Of course, I knew that they were going to win the World Cup before Saki Kumagai slammed home the historic winner though (and what an incredible strike – the perfect penalty in more ways than one).

No, I didn’t call it before the tournament, and even during the final I had my doubts. The point at which I knew that they had the cup secured, though, was in the break between extra-time and penalties.

Yes, Japan had just snatched defeat away from the US right at the death – with Homare Sawa for the second game in a row making amends for a mistake in the build-up to an opponents’ goal by scoring herself – and while the psychological impact of that certainly affected the American players, that isn’t how I knew.

The moment it became obvious, however, was as the camera panned around between the two sets of players.

The American team were stony-faced and serious-looking. They were huddled together and geeing each other up, back-slapping and high-fiving and generally looking like they had work to do, with all the troubles of the world on their minds.

The Japanese camp was exactly the opposite. The players and staff were laughing and joking, already hugging each other on a job well done and looking completely at ease; they were enjoying themselves.

It was almost as if they couldn’t quite believe they were in this position; how are we just a penalty shoot-out away from winning the World Cup? they seemed to be asking.

Then, it looked like they’d blown it. Everybody gathered into a huddle and Sasaki-kantoku leant forwards, seemingly set to offer some serious words of advice or encouragement. But no! Instead he said something (what, I don’t know) before bursting into laughter along with everybody else and sending them on their way to collect the trophy. Simple.

And simple it was. America, feeling the strain, missed their first three penalties – thanks in no small part to the bundle of energy that is Ayumi Kaihori, who repelled two of them – while the Nadeshiko eased into things with Aya Miyama slotting home one of the coolest, calmest penalties I’ve ever seen. Pressure? What pressure?

Everybody knows what happened next, and while Sawa-san has, quite rightly, been receiving most of the praise since the triumph, I’m delighted that it was Kumagai who struck the decisive penalty.

Throughout the tournament she and her central-defensive partner Azusa Iwashimizu were fantastic for Japan, throwing themselves into tackles, blocking shots and comfortable when bringing the ball forwards to start attacks.

It was Iwashimizu who headed home the winner in the Asian Games final last year, and this time too she made a crucial contribution to the win, with her foul in the last minute keeping Japan in the match.

I’m still not 100% that it was a foul, but she knew that it was worth risking the red card in order to prevent what would surely have been the winner for the US.

The full-backs Yukari Kinga and Aya Sameshima – who I’ve developed a bit of a crush on – were also superb, constantly joining the attacks and causing problems for opposition defences, while the likes of Karina Maruyama and Nahomi Kawasumi – two more crushes – who started the tournament as substitutes, also played key roles at vital times on the way to the title.

America’s goalkeeper Hope Solo said after the final that, “I truly believe that something bigger was pulling for this team. If there were any other team I could give this to it would have to be Japan. I’m happy for them and they do deserve it.”

And this something bigger was the fantastic team spirit within the squad and, most importantly, the fact that they were enjoying themselves.

As well as adding the World Cup to their trophy cabinet, the side also succeeded in helping me get a little more in touch with my feminine side; each time I see the highlights on TV I find myself tearing up.

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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