Posts Tagged ‘日本



08
Jun
12

Zaccheroni works to keep Samurai Blue tightly focused

Japan got off to a terrific start in the final round of World Cup Qualifiers with a 3-0 win against Oman on Sunday.

After that game and at training this week I gathered the thoughts of manager Alberto Zaccheroni and some of his players on their next match, which is against Jordan at Saitama Stadium tonight.

06
Jun
12

Creeping up from Down Under

The development of the J.League has been far smoother than that of the Australian A-League, and the most high-profile clash between Japan and Australia saw the Samurai Blue come out on top in last year’s Asian Cup final. The Japanese game may have the upper hand at the moment, but Australian football is steadily closing the gap…  

Next week sees the latest instalment in what is steadily becoming a very interesting rivalry in the Asian game, when Japan travel to Brisbane to take on Australia in the final round of World Cup qualifiers.

Leaving aside the fact that Australia is not actually in Asia – and that in ‘The Socceroos’ it has the most ridiculous nickname in world football – the steadily increasing competition between the two countries is without doubt having a positive impact on the game on both sides of the Pacific.

It is fairly obvious that one of the key reasons for the FFA (Football Federation Australia)’s decision to join the AFC was to increase its chances of making it to World Cup finals (Oceania has just half a spot and must contest a play-off against a side from another federation, while Asian qualification offers four-and-a-half berths), and they and Japan are clear favourites to make it to Brazil from Group B.

Further to that there was also undoubtedly a desire to face a higher standard of opponent though, and both at a national team and club level this is seemingly helping the Australian game to improve.

In the same way that Japanese players are becoming more accustomed to the physical side of the game thanks to their increasingly frequent meetings with their bigger, stronger opponents from down under, the Aussie’s are also picking up pointers from their more technically adept rivals.

After last month’s ACL game between FC Tokyo and Brisbane Roar, for instance, the Roar players were full of praise for their opposite numbers.

“In the A-League the style they play is different,” Bahraini defender Mohamed Adnan said.

“Here they try to keep the ball. [In Australia] they try to play long balls or challenge, they use fitness. But here they are more technical than in the A-League.”

His teammate Besart Berisha was also impressed with FC Tokyo, insisting that he and his teammates were aiming for a similar style of play.

They really work together,” the Albanian said. “The way they do this is perfect, the way they understand each other. The way they move is blind – I say always like this, blind; they know where the other players are, and this is beautiful.”

A third Roar player, Ivan Franjic, added to the praise for the J.League side, but insisted that the Australians were steadily closing the gap.

“They’re very talented and gifted technically, but the A-League’s still a great standard and is going up every year.”

Far from being a one-off in the case of Brisbane – perceived by many to be the most attractive Australian side – he also paid reference to the fact that fellow A-League sides are increasingly enjoying success against J.League opponents in the ACL.

“I definitely think we’re not that far off,” the 24-year-old added. “You can see with the other teams, Central Coast and Adelaide, you can see that the standard is catching up very quick.”

One Aussie who knows all too well about how the game back home is improving is Josh Kennedy, whose Nagoya Grampus side were knocked out of the ACL in the Round of 16 by Adelaide United.

The top scorer in the J.League for the past two seasons is, of course, particularly looking forward to the game with the Samurai Blue.

“I wish Tulio was still in the team, that’d be good,” he joked shortly after the draw had been made, before setting aside digs at his club teammate to address the rivalry between the countries more seriously.

“Obviously if you go by rankings it’s us and Japan to get through but there’s always surprises, always other teams that’ll step up and give it a good shot.”

With that in mind it is tempting to suggest that they may both take it easy and settle for a draw in Brisbane on Tuesday.

If Kennedy has his way that won’t be the case though, and he insists that the growing competition between the two countries means the home side are keen to get one over on the Samurai Blue.

“There’s an Australian-Japan rivalry that we all have now, especially with them winning the Asian Cup, so we’ll definitely be wanting to win that first game against them and I’m looking forward to it.”

03
Jun
12

Japan expects nothing less than win over Oman

The last round of Asian qualifying for the Brazil 2014 World Cup gets underway tonight, and Japan’s first match is at home to Oman.

Ahead of the game I gathered the opinions of Mike Havenaar, Yasuhito Endo, Shinji Kagawa, Ryo Miyaichi and Keisuke Honda  for a preview for The Daily Yomiuri.

30
May
12

Feeling down

It’s a league where anyone can beat anyone. Unless you’re Consadole Sapporo, it seems…

Regular readers may remember that around this time last year I travelled to Sapporo in the hope of watching a game at the Dome. 

The schedule changes brought about by the earthquake sadly meant that wasn’t possible, but a trip to Miyanosawa (and a couple of bars in the city) left a positive impression so a couple of weeks ago I headed north to pay Consadole another visit. 

This time I was able to see a game at the World Cup venue, but even though the visitors FC Tokyo won 1-0 I am still yet to see a goal there.

After taking plenty of pictures around the venue (including one, of course, from behind the goal where David Beckham scored that awful (yet brilliant) penalty against Argentina in 2002) I had to hurry up to the press seats and missed the kick-off.

By the time I got there Kajiyama had already put Tokyo ahead (in the goal I’d just been crouched behind), and some great saves by Shuichi Gonda and awful misses by the Consadole front-line meant that was to be it as far as the scoring went.

That summed up the home side’s season so far, and as many predicted they have struggled to pick up points back in the top-flight.

When I spoke to their manager, Nobuhiro Ishizaki, ahead of the season he anticipated such difficulty, and stated that his aim was purely to keep the club in J1.

“The target is not to be relegated in the first season, which happens often,” he said.

“If a team manages to stay up, the players gain experience and it all gets much easier. The most important thing is to manage to stay in J1.”

In recent seasons unfancied sides promoted from J2 have caused a few surprises, and I had a sneaking suspicion that Consadole may have been the one to do so in 2012.

Of course we know how reliable my predictions are, and it turns out to have been Sagan Tosu who have carried their strong form up with them.

All is not lost yet, but things are not looking too good for the side and it’s vital they improve quickly if they want to stand any chance of avoiding an instant return to the second division.

Defender Jade North was understandably downbeat after the defeat to his former side, although he pointed out that, up to and including that game, Consadole had yet to be truly taken apart.

“It comes to a point where you think “what do we have to do to pick up points?” It’s not as if we’ve been losing by big scores, we fight right to the death, but…”

I suggested that, in a strange way, it may actually be better to get hammered 4- or 5-0, as that makes it easier to identify the things that need improving, and he could well have been paying attention as the team’s next game was the horrendous 7-0 reverse at Kashima Antlers.

That result will produce one of two outcomes: either it strips the players of any remaining confidence they may have had and they will slide inevitably to their doom, or, alternatively – and, admittedly, less likely – it will shock them into action.

“I think anyone can beat anyone on the day,” North told me after the Tokyo game. “It’s all about who turns up.

“For us now it’s battling to stay up. We’re just over a third of the way through.

“I think it becomes a mental thing after a while. With us at the moment it’s just hard to find that win. When you’re losing you forget how to win sometimes.”

The psychological drain of consecutive defeats is undoubtedly the largest hurdle to overcome, but North is not feeling sorry for himself and is well aware of what he and his teammates need to do to change their luck.

“We’ve got to find that winning mentality. Just pick ourselves up and roll our sleeves up.”

If they can do that and start to rack up some points soon you never know what effect that may have on the teams just above them.

They’ll have to be quick about it though, as they’ve given their rivals a hell of a headstart.

22
May
12

S-Pulse among new contenders as old guard struggles

The J.League is steadily earning a reputation for being an open and competitive division. The first third of this season has been no exception, and while some of the bigger clubs struggle in the lower-reaches of the table several unfancied sides are leading the way in J1.

On Saturday I was at Saitama Stadium to see two of these sides – Urawa Reds and Shimizu S-Pulse – go head-to-head, and gathered some thoughts from those involved on their title chances in 2012.

16
May
12

All bets are off

When it comes to calling the outcome of games my luck has been well and truly out of late. Then again, is anybody able to predict what will happen in the J.League…? 

I’m tempted to give up.

I always like to try and call the outcome of games with fellow journalists and fans ahead of matches, but in recent weeks almost every single prediction I have made has been wrong.

Perhaps worryingly for somebody in my profession my woeful inaccuracy is actually starting to become something of a defining characteristic.

I have never been one to benefit financially from betting on games, at university I used to buy a weekly “accumulator” – where a couple of pounds could become hundreds if the outcome of a handful of matches was correctly guessed – without ever coming close to striking it lucky.

Granted, I never did quite as badly as a friend who burst into the living room one Saturday afternoon with a list of about 20 matches which would have earned him tens of thousands, only to discover that the first one had already finished unfavourably, but my poor form did continue with my first few Toto attempts in Japan.

I’m now ¥100 a week better off after kicking that habit.

Rather surprisingly considering my lack of form in the field, last season I provided J.League game previews for a sports gambling website, part of which involved me having to guess the result.

After the first two rounds I had a fairly poor record and was reminded that my success rate would have an impact on whether or not I held onto the job.

I usually try my best to take negative feedback on board, but not that time.

I pointed out to my employer that part of the beauty of football – particularly in Japan – is that you never know for sure who is going to come out on top, before adding that the entire betting industry is built upon the premise of people thinking they know what is going to happen when they don’t.

They said they understood and I didn’t receive any more complaints – although, as I said, I no longer have that job. Hmm…

Anyway, thankfully it is not only me who struggles, and J.League players, too, are bemused by the lack of predictability in their division.

I recently interviewed Urawa Reds’ Tomoaki Makino, and he cited the erratic results in J1 as his favourite aspect of the domestic league.

“Compared to other leagues you don’t know which team is going to become champions,” he said.

“In Spain it is Barcelona or Real, Germany is Bayern or Dortmund. Japan is not like that. Every team has a chance to win the league. That’s the best, most interesting thing about football in Japan.”

Makino’s former Sanfrecce teammate Mihael Mikic agrees that the almost random nature of results makes for a fascinating competition.

“It’s unbelievable. At the beginning of this year I was thinking about who can be champions, and I thought it would be maybe from five or six teams,” the Croatian told me after his team’s 4-1 win over Kawasaki Frontale moved them into second place.

“Then I was thinking about who will go to J2. I thought maybe Sapporo, Tosu and, I was thinking third, I don’t know.

“But now Tosu is up and only Sapporo stays [lower down], so I don’t know who will go to J2 next year! It’s unbelievable how this league is so close.”

The three most recent champions – Kashiwa Reysol, Nagoya Grampus, and Kashima Antlers – all found themselves in the bottom half of the division after ten games, while unfancied sides such as Tosu, Shimizu S-Pulse and, of course, early pacesetters Vegalta Sendai are riding high.

It is tempting to suggest that those clubs will of course slip-up at some point soon, and that the natural order will be resumed, but recent seasons suggest that may not be the case.

Nobody expected Reysol to be so consistently good last year (or appalling this), for example, and Mikic feels that psychology is vital.

“I think this year the race will be very, very tight and who keeps their nerve and their confidence will win the league.”

Well, I think it’s fair to say that I’m losing my nerve, and my confidence is shot so perhaps I should give the predictions a rest for a while and just enjoy the games?

10
May
12

The Mixed Zone with…Tomoaki Makino

For the latest installment of my interview series on the J.League website I chatted with Urawa Reds and Japan defender Tomaki Makino.

Amongst other things he spoke about his year playing in Germany and subsequent return to the J.League, his role for the national team, and just what Japanese players need to do to be successful overseas.

08
May
12

On the spot

It is often assumed that penalty kicks are foregone conclusions, and some even suggest that strikers who inflate their scoring ratios from 12-yards should have their hauls judged accordingly. If you ask me that’s ridiculous… 

This week I want to take the opportunity to discuss the issue of penalty kicks.

Josh Kennedy, the J.League’s top-scorer for the past two seasons, has often had his achievement questioned in some quarters because of the fact that he is Nagoya Grampus’s penalty taker and thus is assumed to have an advantage in the race for the golden boot (and hideous sponsors’ trinkets).

Personally, I’ve always felt that was nonsense and recent events have served to back me up.

Three former World Player of the Year winners – Kaka, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – all failed from 12-yards in their Champions League semi-finals, and their misses prove that penalties are far from being as good as a goal.

When I played football back in England I was generally used as a fairly ineffective defender.

Because of that I wasn’t exactly a regular on the scoresheet, and any chances that did fall my way tended to end up anywhere but the back of the net.

However, when it came to penalties as an enthusiastic teenager I was always first to raise my hand.

I can still remember the first time I volunteered to take a spot-kick as part of a penalty shoot-out when I would have been 17 or so.

Several of my more attack-minded (and more talented) older teammates weren’t keen to have a go so I offered my services.

My manager pretended not to hear me and asked again who fancied one.

I again raised my hand and said I’d take the fifth kick – I fancied a bit of glory.

After realising no one else was going to volunteer he grudgingly accepted and I duly tucked my kick away and we won the game.

At the time I really couldn’t work out why my teammates were so nervous. To me it was just like completing a pass to a teammate. The goal wasn’t far away, all I had to do was pass the ball to the corner before the keeper got there; nothing to it.

Another penalty shoot-out came about and I again took last and again scored the winner. Having proved it wasn’t a fluke I was then installed as the team’s regular penalty taker.

Of course, as we all know, in every story the protagonist suffers a fall just when everything seems to be going well.

I had grown up watching Eric Cantona coolly slot home penalty after penalty and until that point my youth and naivety meant I was so full of confidence I would score it never entered my mind that I might not.

A couple of penalties down the line those doubts did eventually surface.

It was a bit of a windy day and as I was placing the ball on the spot I heard a teammate comment to an opponent that there was no way I would miss.

“What if do miss?” I thought.

And that was it. Suddenly the goal seemed tiny, the keeper looked huge and the breeze appeared stronger. I doubted if I could even reach the goal-line, let alone cross it.

Needless to say my attempt was saved and my confidence from 12 yards evaporated.

The level I was playing at was completely inconsequential compared to a Champions League tie – perhaps a couple of dozen spectators and the odd dog – and while J.League games are also a step away from the very elite level, keeping your emotions in check in front of thousands of expectant or jeering fans is no mean feat.

I put the question to Kennedy himself after a Grampus game earlier this season and he, too, insisted that spot-kicks are far from straightforward.

“Penalties are harder to score than people think,” he said. “If I had the choice between a sort of half-chance in the game or a penalty I’d rather have a half-chance.”

The fact that there is thinking time adds to the pressure, and it is dealing with that, more than the technique, which separates those who can from those who can’t.

Therefore, nothing should be taken away from Kennedy or any other players who bolster their records from 12 yards.

The man himself put it best.

“At the end of the day they all count. They all win games and that’s how I see it.”

02
May
12

Makino gives Reds lift during loan stint

Last week I visited Urawa Reds’ training ground in Saitama to interview defender Tomoaki Makino.

He was keen to talk his future ambitions, J.League referees and the Olympics and you can read the full article here.

25
Apr
12

A. Crap. League?

It is often said that the thrill is in the chase. The Asian Champions League may seem attractive but, for Japanese clubs, once the target is achieved it usually turns out to be more of a hindrance than a help…

Qualifying for the ACL always seems to me a bit like getting a full-time job.

A lot of time and energy is spent aiming for it, but once the target has been achieved the realisation kicks in that, actually, it’s going to be a bit of a nuisance and will prevent you from spending time concentrating on things you’d much rather be doing.

Before the season if you ask any player or coach from one of the 10 or so teams not anticipating a push for the title or relegation battle what their target is and they will almost certainly spout something about aiming for an ACL place.

It’s the idea of it, perhaps, and the status it appears to endow. Similar to a man going through a mid-life crisis getting a Porsche, an 18-year-old girlfriend, or Fernando Torres.

Once you’re sat in the driver’s seat, wandering around Disneyland or cringing at another missed open goal reality dawns and you feel a bit uncomfortable.

Oswaldo Oliveira frequently bemoaned the scheduling and amount of travel required for his serially-successful Kashima Antlers side, and at the start of this season two coaches of teams in the 2012 edition were equally as unenthusiastic.

Ranko Popovic of FC Tokyo – who was in no way at fault for the club being in the tournament having only taken over after Kiyoshi Okuma guided them to success in the Emperor’s Cup – spoke of the strain the extra games would have on the physical condition of his players.

“I worry about the fitness, how much of an influence it will have on the players. Tired or not tired? How many are tired? How long for?”

He then added the faintest praise for Asia’s take on UEFA’s global phenomenon, sounding in the process rather like a contestant on a television game-show.

“We must first in our heads be ready for this trip and say, “Ok, this is nice, the Champions League,” we must be happy to be in a competition like the ACL, to enjoy it and do our best and see ultimately what we can do.”

He concluded thusly, “And also we must use these games to make us more ready for the championship.”

These comments were almost completely mirrored by Nagoya Grampus’ head coach Dragan Stojkovic.

Physical strain? Check.

“As I said many times of the ACL, it’s a good competition but the travel, the jetlag, this is the main problem,” Piksi said.

“When you’re back from one zone to Japan and two days later you have to play an away game it’s very hard.

“The other team is waiting for you with high motivation, full of power and it’s very difficult to respond. This is the problem of the ACL.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Dragan from Nagoya!

“We will try this year. First of all to win the J.League and secondly, if we have a chance, a space, a possibility, why not the ACL.”

And the main target?

“Everything is possible. Let’s see. But priority number one for us is the J.League.”

My experiences at ACL games have been just as underwhelming as the (lack of) hype around them.

This season I have been at Reysol v. Guangzhou and FC Tokyo v. Beijing, and on both occasions the overriding impression was that everything was a bit half-hearted.

Everybody seemed to just going through the motions and keeping up appearances. Making sure they did the bare minimum to pay the competition lip-service.

Even making a proper run of their uniform was too much of a nuisance for FC Tokyo, who chose instead to run a lottery for a chosen few supporters to win a shirt that would be worn less than ten times.

There are usually a fraction of the fans that attend league games, players are rested and even the stewards – usually the most officious people in the stadium – appear disinterested.

A Beijing fan clambered onto a low railing to raise his scarf as the teams came out for their game with Tokyo, a clear breach of the rules, and a uniformed guy wandered over and signalled for him to get down. When the fan refused the steward just sighed and ambled back to his position.

To me, that wonderfully summed up the ACL. He just couldn’t be bothered.




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