Posts Tagged ‘日本代表



21
Feb
12

The Italians’ Jobs

Fabio Capello didn’t enjoy much succes with England and recently called an end to his spell in charge. Alberto Zacchroni’s time in Japan has gone a lot more smoothly…

The only thing that the Japanese and English national teams had in common of late was the fact that the head coach of both sides was Italian.

While the Samurai Blue have gone from strength to strength under Alberto Zaccheroni and firmly established themselves as Asia’s top side, England have trudged from mediocre display to scandal and back again on Fabio Capello’s watch.

At the start of the month the former AC Milan and Real Madrid coach finally decided that enough was enough and handed in his resignation.

The reason he gave for his departure was the FA’s decision to strip John Terry of the captaincy because of his upcoming trial for allegedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand – younger brother of Terry’s long-time central-defensive partner for England, Rio.

Capello claimed to be angry that the resolution was made without his approval and quit on principle. At the time of writing that means the Three Lions have neither a manager or a captain, with the European Championships just four months away – although Spurs boss Harry Redknapp is clear favourite to take over in the role that Sir Alex Ferguson has described as a ‘poisoned chalice’.

There have been suggestions that Capello merely used the latest furore concerning the Chelsea defender as an excuse to escape, with players, fans and the media never taking to his dictatorial approach and frequently bemoaning his basic grasp of English.

I for one wouldn’t particularly blame him if that was the case, and think that this last complaint in particular  nicely sums up the malaise surrounding English football.

As much talk as there is about the game developing and opening up to different ways of thinking it is still a very rigid institution which, when combined with the huge egos of many of the members of the national team and the bitter rivalries that exist between the teammates’ clubs, shows very little sign of improving anytime soon.

Last time I checked, Alberto Zaccheroni doesn’t speak Japanese, but a very different culture here means that has never become an issue – nor should it.

At the end of last year I was interviewed by the TV show ‘Foot!’, and was asked what my thoughts were concerning the future of the Japanese national team.

I answered then, and stand by the claim, that I can see the side going on to become better than my nation in the next three or four World Cups.

The reasons for this are threefold: Firstly, the professional game here has the huge benefit of still being incredibly young. In the early stages of development improvement can be made on a steeper incline than a country which has a long history – as former Shimizu S-Pulse and Kashiwa Reysol coach Steve Perryman once explained to me.

“If you’re managing the Brazil national team, to improve them 1% is very difficult,” he said.

“Because of where Japan have come from they can improve 7, 8%, or 10%. There’s an improvement gap to go into and they are the best people to find it. And the other people aren’t getting away from them, they’re coming closer all the time.”

Secondly, the structure of youth development here is fantastic and the organisation and facilities for aspiring players are superb.

Finally – and most importantly – Japanese culture encourages the desire to learn, and players here are ready, willing and able to pick up ideas from coaches and teammates from all over the world.

English football, on the other hand, has a long and distinguished history which certainly brings added pressure – and, according to Perryman’s theory, less room for improvement.

Add to this a fairly basic and inflexible approach to the youth game, and a generation of players whose main principles are centred around “getting stuck in” and the lack of progression doesn’t look so surprising.

With that in mind, perhaps a more ‘old-school’ style coach like Redknapp is better suited to the position, and may earn respect more readily from the players.

Quite whether such an attitude is for the best in the long run is certainly up for debate though.

Temporary improvement may take place, but until longer-term changes are made Japan will keep edging closer and closer – and may soon overtake.

17
Jan
12

Lee takes a gamble to become a Saint

A couple of weeks ago I headed to Southampton to speak to Saints’ new signing Tadanari Lee.

Image

The former Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker spoke of his reasons for moving to The Championship side, focusing on his desire to improve as a player.

23
Nov
11

Japan’s unbeaten record goes south in North Korea

A trip to Pyonyang is always going to be a difficult fixture. I can’t help but think that Japan let the atmosphere affect them a little too much though…

So, Alberto Zaccheroni’s unbeaten run as manager of Japan ended at 16 games.

As well as losing such a proud record the Samurai Blue also surrendered their title as Unofficial World Champions in the process – meaning that the North Koreans can now, justifiably (sort of), claim to be the best team in the world.

The run had to come to an end sometime, and the fact that it did so in the peculiar environment of the Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang is not actually so surprising.

The game was a dead rubber, with Japan assured of their passage to the next stage of qualification while North Korea had already become the first team to appear at the 2010 World Cup finals to be eliminated from the 2014 competition.

With that in mind Alberto Zaccheroni was able to experiment a little, and went into the game minus seven regular starters (including the injured Keisuke Honda).

While the outcome of the match wasn’t important, the Italian would still have been paying close attention to how his back-up players performed in such hostile surroundings though, and will certainly have taken note of several things.

Chief among them was the fact that the side seemed to be lacking in guts a little, and they were clearly affected by the intimidating atmosphere created by the fervent home support. From the moment that Kimigayo was vehemently booed the players, used to being pampered in their comfortable lives outside the hermit kingdom, struggled to focus on their game and were unable to build any kind of rhythm in an incredibly stop-start opening 15 minutes.

North Korea are a very physical outfit and didn’t hold back in any of their challenges, but while Zac suggested after the game that they had no need to worry about suspensions with their qualification campaign already over, that seemed to me like something of a weak excuse.

Some of the tackles were a little over-zealous but very few, if any, were especially dangerous, and if the Japanese players had matched their opponents for desire in the challenge then their hosts may well have backed down a little.

That didn’t happen though and, having realised that their combative tactics were causing Japan to retreat further into their shell, the North Koreans kept up their approach. This added further fuel to the home fans’ enthusiastic support and made Japan’s job even more difficult.

To an extent, the Japanese players’ trepidation was understandable, and even watching on TV I was fascinated by the scenes inside the stadium.

As well as the intricate card displays in the main stand grabbing my attention I was intrigued by the appearance and behaviour of the North Korean supporters.

With everybody dressed in uniforms or simple, prim-and-proper button-up shirts, and sporting conservative, no-nonsense hairstyles it reminded me a little of archive footage of English football fans from the 60s.

The impression of travelling back in time was added to by their behaviour after the goal, with the excited clapping and broad smiles also reminiscent of a bygone era.

These finer points will almost certainly have passed the players by, but the palpable desire of everybody in the stadium to beat Japan was clear for all to see. The celebrations after the final whistle drove home just how much more the North Koreans wanted the win than their opponents, as did the fact that the big screen behind the goal did not deviate from the score even as the supporters finally made their way to the exits.

It is said that you learn more in defeat than victory, and Zac will also now be aware of the fact that the team needs to improve on its travels. They may be able to perform in the exhibition-match niceness of the Kirin Cup and lambs-to-the-slaughter visits of the likes of Tajikistan, but when they are away from home the side looks less comfortable.

The unique atmosphere of Pyongyang is, of course, not going to be experienced anywhere else in the world, and there is no need to panic.

Tricky away fixtures are sure to be on the cards in the next round of qualifiers as well though, and lessons can and should be learned from this disappointment before they come around.

21
Oct
11

Shooting Stars

Football fans the world over love a new star. The constant hunger for fresh articles analysing their performances, critiquing them and predicting or declaring their downfall make it difficult to arive at balanced judgments of their true abilities. In Japan this is process is particularly pronounced and shelf-life seems to be set at around six months….

A couple of years ago it seemed as if all of Japan’s prospects at the 2010 World Cup depended solely upon Shunsuke Nakamura.

He was the media darling and his struggles with injury and poor form created thousands of column inches in the build-up to the tournament.

Then Keisuke Honda came along and became the go-to guy for comments, seemingly established as the new face of the Samurai Blue.

While the CSKA Moscow ‘star’ is still of central importance to the success of the national team his is not the name most spotted on shirts at the stadium at the moment though, with first Shinji Kagawa and then Yuto Nagatomo rising to the top of the pile on the back of their moves to Europe. 

Of course, every country likes to have their hero, and a new face upon which to pin a nation’s hopes is not in any way unique to Japanese football.

The frequency with which the idol is changed here – and the speed at which they are elevated to the summit – is fairly unusual though.

The reason I say ‘star’ in relation to Honda is not meant in any way to detract from his abilities as a player, but in all truth he is yet to really achieve enough to warrant the term.

Yes, he scored a couple of goals at the World Cup and looks to have the ability to make it in one of the bigger leagues, but at 25 he is still stuck in Russia and very few fans outside of Japan know much, if anything, about him.

The manner in which home-grown success stories are overblown in Japan projects daunting expectations onto the players though, and this most recently resulted in Kagawa cutting a forlorn figure around the team in the build-up to the Tajikistan game.

“I want to get my goal. If I can score then maybe my performance will jump up,” he said when questioned for the umpteenth time about the ‘slump in form’ that had seen him go three games without scoring for the national team.

Just three games.

“I only want to focus on the next match and I want to play to my real ability,” he continued. “But this time maybe the most important thing is to not think. If I can play like that then maybe that will be my best performance.”

That last observation hit the nail firmly on the head. My impressions from watching him of late were that he had been trying to do too much. Trying to carry the team. Trying to live up to his billing.

He clearly has the ability so let’s just let him play the game the way that comes naturally to him – and has brought about his success to date – and not get on his back when things aren’t going exactly to plan. 

His magnificent pair of goals against Tajikistan (although I still think the second was a cross, and so did Yasuhito Endo) demonstrate that he has lost none of the ability that caused his rapid rise from J2 to the Bundesliga.

Even so, he felt the need to qualify this after the game, telling reporters that, “my confidence depends on what happens in the future. I have to keep going.”

While it is good to seek improvement, the players should not fear their next game and the negative headlines that may appear if their performance dips a little.

Football players are not tarento. Their shelf-life is not just six months and they will have ups and downs. We don’t need a new face every time the leaves change.

Hiroshi Kiyotake and Genki Haraguchi seem to be the next duo vying to be the latest luminous-booted starlet who proves that Japan’s Got Talent, but let’s not get carried away.

Genki’s had a good season considering the atrocious form of his club, while Kiyotake’s settled well into the national team in his first few appearances.

We shouldn’t forget the old proverb about the foolishness of constructing houses on sand.

 Instead of building players up too quickly and then knocking them down with similar haste, let’s give them a bit of time to lay their foundations before we proclaim them as ‘world class’ or past it.

21
Oct
11

Sakai aims to make history with Reysol

This season a new name is vying to add itself to the J.League roll of honour, with last season’s J2 champions Kashiwa Reysol well in the hunt with a handful of games remaining.

Recently I caught up with Hiroki Sakai, one of the team’s star performers in 2011, to find out the key to the team’s success, and just how highly he rated their chances of back-to-back titles.

21
Oct
11

Japan vents frustrations on Tajikistan

Having stumbled out of the blocks slightly in their opening pair of Brazil 2014 World Cup qualifiers Japan were expected to put in a performance against Tajikistan at Nagai Stadium.

Thankfully, they didn’t disappoint and my analyss of the match, plus comments from the key protaganists, can be found here.

12
Oct
11

Japan v. Tajikistan Preview

On Tuesday night Japan played Tajikistan in their third group game in the third round of Asian qualification for Brazil 2014.

I wrote a peview ahead of the match for The Daily Yomiuri, which 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.

05
Sep
11

Mike Havenaar and Chong Tese on World Cup qualifiers

Japan take on Uzbekistan in Tashkent on Tuesday while North Korea welcome Tajikistan to Pyongyang as the 3rd round of Asian qualifying for Brazil 2014 continues.

After Japan defeated North Korea 1-0 in Saitama on Friday night I spoke with Mike Havenaar of the Samurai Blue, and the Chollima’s Chong Tese to get their thoughts on that game and their next fixtures.

02
Sep
11

Japan v. North Korea Preview

Tonight, in spite of the impending typhoon, Japan takes on North Korea in their first World Cup qualifier for Brazil 2014.

My preview of the game, featuring comments from several Samurai Blue players, can be found here.




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