Posts Tagged ‘柏木陽介

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.

07
Apr
11

Cop out?

The will-they-won’t-they concerning Japan’s participation in the Copa America is dragging on a bit so I decided to clear it up for Weekly Soccer Magazine.

The J.League and JFA certainly have some tricky decisions to make over the coming weeks, and just how the five rounds of postponed J.League matches can be made up in an already packed schedule is not an easy problem to solve. 

Luckily I have had a lot of time on my hands lately though, and so have been able to come up with the answer for Mr. Ogura and Mr. Ohigashi: and the good news is that the J.League and Copa America can both still go ahead.

Essentially there were three options available:

Option 1. The national team travel to Argentina with any players that Zac wants to take and the J.League keeps the mid-season break as scheduled. The five rounds of matches are then made up throughout the course of the season, with one extra round per month in May, June, September, October and November.

Option 2. The national team withdraw from the Copa America and during that scheduled five week break the J.League make up the matches.

Option 3. The national team still take part in the Copa America and the J.League play rounds 2-6 at the same time. Either Zac is asked to function without any J.League regulars, or clubs are asked for their co-operation in the matter.

 

None of these options are ideal and somewhere along the line somebody is going to have to compromise. However, the recent events in Tohoku mean that flexibility is required – and should be expected – to resolve the situation.

Initially I was leaning towards the first option. All of the J.League players are professional athletes who are paid to keep themsleves in top physical condition. As such, asking them to play five matches a month rather than four is not a particulalry big demand. As a fellow journalist pointed out to me the other day, if Crawley Town of the English Blue Square Premier League (5th Division) can play twice a week, then surely J.League players can.

The problem with this option though was the break in the middle of the season. The more I considered it, the more that five-week period bugged me. It would essentially be a week for each player who is actually likely to be missing from the J.League and featuring for Japan in Argentina (Nishikawa, Inoha, Tulio, Endo, Maeda). This seems like an awful lot of time to be wasting when there are games to be played, and so I began to consider option 2.

The national team pulling out of the Copa America would ease the strain on the players but it just seems a little drastic – again bearing in mind the number who will actually be missing from the J.League. There are a few other domestic players who are on the fringes of the national team (Iwamasa, Kashiwagi, Fujimoto, Honda) but their spots could easily be filled by young J.Leaguers yet to cement places at their clubs, or J2 or University players.

 

And so I settled for option 3; the best of both. But, are J.League teams asked to get by without their stars or does Zac have to choose his squad solely from overseas players and the lesser-lights?

The latter. The Copa America is, essentially, meaningless. Japan are travelling to Argentina to gain experience (and probably make a few yen, of course), and none of the J.League players who will be missing out are lacking in either. The European-based players will have finished their seasons by then and will bring more than enough quality to the squad, with the remaining places being taken up by satellite members of J1 teams, second division players and members of Sekizuka’s Under-22 team.

If I were in charge, for example, my squad would look something like this:

Eiji Kawashima, Shuichi Gonda, Shunsuke Ando; Atsuto Uchida, Takuya Okamoto, Michihiro Yasuda, Maya Yoshida, Tomoaki Makino, Yasuyuki Konno, Yuto Nagatomo; Yuki Abe, Makoto Hasebe, Hajime Hosogai, Keigo Higashi, Akihiro Ienaga, Ryo Miyaichi, Kazuya Yamamura, Daisuke Matsui; Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki, Keisuke Honda, Takayuki Morimoto, Shoki Hirai.  

Still a strong line-up, with some potential Samurai Blue regulars of the future getting some crucial experience around the full national team, while the J.League can go about its business as usual until December.

So there you have it, problem solved.

15
Feb
11

Land of the Rising Sons

After Japan beat Australia 1-0 in the Asian Cup final there was only one thing I could write about for last week’s Soccer Magazine…

The Samurai Blue’s success at the Asian Cup last week rounded off a hugely successful twelve months for Japanese football, and it doesn’t look as if the games’ development will be slowing down any time soon.

The ability to come from behind was key to Japan’s success in Qatar, and this mental strength is a relatively new addition to the side’s armoury. Compare the never-say-die spirit that was on display in 2011, for instance, with their infamous experience in Doha back in 1993. Rather than being the victim and conceding late goals, Japan is now the kind of side that is inflicting them on their opponents.

Turning a defeat or draw into a win in such a manner is the hallmark of all great teams, and if Japan can maintain such resilience over the next three-and-a-half years they will certainly put themselves in a position to progress beyond the last 16 in Brazil.

The foundations for this development can be accredited in no small part to Takeshi Okada, who identified the importance of mental strength when preparing his team for the World Cup in South Africa.

“When we talk about athletes and sports, there are three areas in which people compete,” he said. “There is the physical aspect, there is the technical aspect and there is the mental aspect.”

While many were ridiculing his ‘Best 4’ ambition, Okada san remained committed to the target, citing the importance of a strong psychology and refusing to accept that Japan did not have what it took to go that far. He reasoned that, “If you look back on Japan’s long history, even before the era of bushido or the samurai warrior way, there has always been, within the Japanese, the ability to fight, the ability to compete. It’s just that these abilities have been dimmed somewhat in recent times because now we live in a very safe and convenient society. I can say that, in a sense, this fundamental fighting spirit of ours, the switch has been turned off and therefore it’s only a matter of turning on this switch again.”

His steadfast belief in the players appears to have been the catalyst to do just this. While they did fall short of the semifinals last June, their performances at the finals – and since – have brought about a mental shift within the team, and the players now have the belief that they can compete with sides they may previously have been intimidated by.

The win over Argentina, which got Alberto Zaccheroni off to an incredible start, was undoubtedly a great result but it did have to be taken in context (with the Argentines here for little more than to pick up a sizeable paycheck) and it was important not to get too carried away.

Seven games down the line, however, and with the side still unbeaten under Zac they are starting to look like they possess genuine potential.

The number of players now plying their trade in Europe is certainly helping, and the manner in which Japan dealt with Australia’s aerial onslaught in the final demonstrated that experience in more physical leagues is paying dividends.

With the level of the J.League also improving year-on-year the number of quality players available for selection is on the rise, and the strength-in-depth that Zaccheroni has at his disposal is vital, as the man himself attested to after the final.

“This is an excellent team and we have excellent players so I am proud to manage them. What is great about the team is that the players who started on the bench can produce results on the pitch as well.”

Indeed, when you can bring on the likes of Hajime Hosogai, Daiki Iwamasa, Yosuke Kashgiwagi and, of course, Tadanari Lee (and you are without players such as Tulio, Yuji Nakazawa, Mu Kanazaki, Kengo Nakamura, Takayuki Morimoto, Yuki Abe, Tomoaki Makino, Shinji Kagawa, Daisuke Matsui… the list really does go on) you certainly do have a group of players to be envied.

There is, of course, still plenty of room for improvement, and the team must be careful not to become complacent. If they can stay focused though, then Japan really could become a force to be reckoned with in the international game.




If Sakka Nihon isn’t enough then you can follow my every move (sort of) here.

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