Posts Tagged ‘蹴球ベーベー

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.

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.

12
Nov
11

Okashi(i)

In my opinion, the Nabisco is very much a cup half empty…

The Japanese word for snacks, okashi, is strikingly similar to the word for strange, okashii. With that in mind it is particularly fitting that the J.League Cup – a pretty bizarre competition – is sponsored by the confectionary company Nabisco.

This year’s final was contested by two teams who have been having far from their best seasons – as indeed it invariably is.

The three previous showpieces – which admittedly are great occasions and generate a terrific atmosphere – have seen Jubilo Iwata, FC Tokyo and Oita Trinita emerge triumphant.

None of those sides were seriously challenging on any other fronts at the time, and for the latter two the tournament actually appeared to be something of a curse as they suffered relegation to J2 in the season following their victories.

While the teams that are in with a chance of winning the league or even the Emperor’s Cup – which carries the huge, and fitting, bonus of an ACL spot – focus on frying their bigger fish, the also-rans are left to fight over the crumbs.

Kashima Antlers will have been delighted to get one over their old rivals and pick up yet another trophy at Reds’ expense, but they would surely rather have been battling it out for the league title or to become the Kings of Asia.

Indeed, this was the first time that Oswaldo Oliveira had won the Nabisco Cup – the only domestic trophy he hadn’t collected in his time at the club – and while he will no doubt be happy to have collected the full set, he must also be feeling a little disheartened that Antlers are now having to settle for the smaller trinkets.

He even hinted at as much after the final, telling reporters in the press conference that, “because we are no longer in a realistic position to win the league we had a responsibility to win a title and so perhaps I focused on this competition a little more than I usually would.”

It could be argued that Reds deserved to win the championship more than Antlers, though.

Yes, they were largely outplayed in the final and the game was effectively ended as a spectacle with the over-enthusiastic refereeing of Mr. Tojo (Naoki’s first caution was a little harsh – although he, admittedly, knew he had received it and was stupid to fly in for the second tackle – while Aoki’s second yellow card was truly bizarre), but they had worked three times as hard as their opponents to get to the final.

Kashima had played just two matches prior to the clash at Kokuritsu, while Urawa contested six – all of which they won.

Teams with commitments in continental competition usually have their workload lightened, and this year the difference was more extreme because of the rearranged schedule after the earthquake but such a large disparity is very odd.

There has been talk of including J2 in the tournament from next season and I personally think that would be a great idea and could really inject some life into the competition.

Many factors – sponsors’ interests and club’s budgets chief among them – need to be taken into account but as a simple suggestion, my version of the League Cup would look something like this.

Eight groups of four teams, four consisting of three from J2 and one from J1, four with two from each division. Each team would play three matches and the winner of each group plus the best two runners up would progress to the next round.

Here they would be joined by the previous season’s top four from J1 and the reigning Emperor’s Cup and Nabisco Cup champions. (If the cup winners also finished in the top four then 5th and 6th from J1 would take their byes. If a J2 team won either or both cups then only 18 or 19 second division sides would be in the group stage with 14 or 13 from J1).

From that point on it would be a simple one-legged knockout competition from an unseeded draw.

The J.League is keen to expand and improve the credibility of its second division, and this format would certainly provide J2 sides with more exposure, as well as opportunities to test themselves against stronger opponents.

There would, admittedly, still be a slight discrepancy in the number of games teams play, but it would make for a slightly more even playing field, and the tournament could truly be considered as the “J.League Cup” – a tournament worth winning.

04
Nov
11

Raising the stakes

Three teams are neck and neck as we head towards the final straight of the 2011 J.League season. With Kashiwa Reysol, Gamba Osaka and Nagoya Grampus matching wins with wins it looks like being a case of who blinks first…

Here we go again. The climax of the J.League season is upon us and as is almost always the case (last year excepted) it is looking like going right down to the wire.

Heading into the last four games things are perfectly poised with three teams neck and neck for the title.

Kashiwa Reysol have the narrowest of advantages in pole position, but with Gamba Osaka two points behind and Nagoya Grampus just one further back the slightest slip-up by anybody could prove fatal.

All three teams have proven they have the ability – never losing two games in a row, recording the most victories in the division, and, along with free-scoring, free-conceding Cerezo Osaka, scoring the most goals – but now it comes down to more than that.

When the chips are down, guts are crucial.

In the last round Grampus showed they have the stomach for a fight, and after their victory over Omiya Ardija Dragan Stojkovic was particularly pleased with his players’ ability to keep going.

“For us the most important thing is that we found the energy, we found our belief to give us the result and to bring three points home,” an exhausted Pixi said after watching his side go from 1-0 up to 2-1 down before eventually triumphing 3-2.

“I really wanted to play with all the cards on the table, nothing in my pocket and everything on the table. I think this tactic and this idea gave us the result.”

Reysol didn’t fold under pressure either and managed to keep their noses just in front, refusing to panic after their old-boy Tadanari Lee gave Sanfrecce a second half lead in Hiroshima and coming back to win 3-1.

That was the sixth time this season that the Sun Kings had recorded a victory after conceding first, and when I spoke to Hiroki Sakai a couple of days before the match he mentioned how important that ability had been to the side.

“If you compare it with last year we didn’t get many wins from losing positions,” he said. “This year, even if we are losing I still feel as though we can win the game though, and this gives confidence to the players.”

After their comprehensive 4-1 defeat to Grampus in Round 29 Gamba faced a tricky fixture against Montedio – a team fighting for their J1 place and which Akira Nishino’s men hadn’t beaten on either of their previous trips to Yamagata.

Their confidence and composure showed no signs of having been dented though – even without their ace, Yasuhito Endo – and their emphatic 5-0 win upped the ante in the title race.

Grampus may have been forced to go all in against Ardija, but when you have their strength-in-depth – the double change that turned things in their favour saw Kensuke Nagai and Mu Kanazaki introduced – that was not particularly risky.

Utilising the fullness of their impressive squad was key to Nagoya being crowned champions last season, and the fact that they were able to last the pace then should serve them will this time around.

Reysol also secured a championship last season though, so can see Grampus in that respect.

However, both teams wrapped their titles up with games to spare so the action wasn’t quite as intense last year as it is right now.

Gamba, too, are more than used to being in and around the top table come the final stages, and have only finished outside of the top three once in the past seven seasons.

Impressive as this is, they have claimed the jackpot just once.

Furthermore, while they held their nerve impressively amongst five hopefuls in 2005, that title was effectively sealed by a last-gasp Yasuyuki Konno goal for FC Tokyo against Cerezo who were on the cusp of the championship themselves.

So, it really is nigh-on impossible to choose a favourite and we are set for a gripping ride all the way to the finish.

My tip to claim the pot? Well, I have a sneaking suspicion about one of them but as my dark-horse (Omiya) and top-scorer (Carlao) predictions go to show, I think it’s probably best for all concerned that I don’t show my hand this time.

30
Sep
11

Striking a different note

Since the J.League began it has almost always been the local players creating the chances, while foreign imports have taken the glory by banging in the goals. That looks like it is changing slowly…

In recent weeks I’ve noticed something strange has been going on in the J.League.

While everybody’s attention has been distracted by the sea of tricky little creative midfielders and energetic full-backs pouring overseas, a new type of Japanese player has been slowly coming into being back home.

A glance at the scoring charts confirmed that I wasn’t imagining things and my suspicions were true; the country is producing goalscorers.

Eight out of the top ten in J1 after Round 26 were Japanese, and all of them were into double-figures.

Alongside the usual suspects Ryoichi Maeda and Keiji Tamada were the experienced Yuzo Tashiro and Shingo Akamine, as well as four younger strikers Mike Havenaar, Tadanari Lee, Junya Tanaka and Yu Kobayashi.

Of course, there has always been the odd Japanese player in and around the top of the list, and the fact that half of those listed above are over 25 suggests that this is not a wholly new phenomenon.

However, having so many homegrown strikers leading the line for their clubs – and leading the way in the scoring charts – is certainly a recent development.

Indeed, as recently as April 2010 the reputation of Japanese strikers was far less flattering, and in an interview with the then-Kawasaki Frontale striker Chong Tese, a common perception of the nation’s front-men was aired

“Japanese forwards are not like forwards, they are like midfielders,” the North Korean international told me. “It looks like they don’t want to score goals.

“The most important thing for a forward is to be an egoist,” he continued. “If you have five opportunities and only get one goal that is ok. The other four times everyone expresses their disappointment with you but the forward only needs to get the one goal.”

And thanks, I believe, to two interconnected reasons it looks like this way of thinking is finally being embraced on a wider scale by the nation’s goal-getters.

The first contributing factor is the wonderful desire and ability of the Japanese to fine-tune and perfect things.

Japanese teams were producing plenty of Captain Tsubasa-inspired assist merchants, but the absence of anybody to put the chances away meant there was an aspect to be worked at and tweaked.

This goal was undoubtedly assisted as the image of ‘the striker’ started to shift, with the influence of foreign players, both positive and negative, also aiding the process.

The likes of Leo Messi and David Villa have proven that you don’t need to be 180cm and 80kg to be a centre-forward so more Japanese players, who ordinarily are neither of these things, are starting to be given chances and, more importantly, to believe they can play up-front.  

Initially J.League clubs assumed they needed a Brazilian to spearhead the attack but as many of these imports turned out to be well below par – and, of course, the money that attracted them moved to the Middle East – chances have started to be handed to homegrown talent instead.

Playing alongside the better foreign players to come to these shores and taking the positives from their styles and mental approaches has also benefited this generation of players, so too the increasing visibility of international leagues.  

Yuji Ono – who along with Kensuke Nagai, Genki Omae and Hidetaka Kanazono is another of the new breed of aggressive, goal-hungry strikers – made this clear when I interviewed him at the start of the season.

“The reason that so many young players like myself are playing now,” he explained, “is because, unlike before, we can watch foreign football on TV.”

It is now possible to study the technique of the best forwards in the world and to fashion your own style from their best bits. Tadanari Lee is another who has developed in this way, listing Raul, Filippo Inzaghi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Dennis Bergkamp as the players he tries to learn from.

This diligent approach has undoubtedly helped the Japanese striker out of its shell, but for the species to continue its evolution it may soon be time to set the DVDs aside.

Centre-forward is the position which most demands the ability to be unpredictable and spontaneous. Having proven that they have the instincts, then, it is now time for the home-grown No. 9s to start trusting in them.

15
Feb
11

A Rey of light

A few weeks ago I attended Kashiwa Reysol’s 2011 season conference and had a far better Saturday night than I’d been expecting.

Yellow is my favourite colour. To me it reflects positivity, and as soon as you add a splash to the picture everything becomes a lot warmer and more vibrant.

As such, I was disappointed at the end of the 2009 J.League season when the colour drained from J1 substantially as JEF United – ever-present in the top-flight since the league’s inception in 1993 – were relegated, along with their Chiba neighbours, Kashiwa Reysol.

While I was unhappy to see JEF go down, Kashiwa represented the bigger loss to me, with a trip to Hitachi Dai providing one of the best atmospheres in Japanese football.

The supporters – as they always should be in football stadiums – are right on top of the action and use their close proximity to the pitch to great effect. They taunt and intimidate opposing players, and possess a unique sense of humour that is lacking in the majority of J.League stadiums.

For this reason I was pleased when the side made an instant return to the top-flight – after a terrific season in J2 where they only lost two games – and headed eagerly along to Kashiwa City Civic Cultural Hall last weekend for their 2011 season conference.

This was the first time I had been to such an event and all I really expected was for a handful of local journalists to be firing some simple questions at the coach and new players while a few supporters milled around for a picture or autograph.  

How wrong I was. The hall was a sellout, and once the 1,200 seats had been filled the remaining fans who had ventured out had to stand. The atmosphere, too, was more boisterous than I’d anticipated (caused, in no small part, by head coach Nelsinho who declined the opportunity to introduce the club’s slogan for the season in the usually straight-laced manner in favour of a far more interactive ‘call-back’: “1, 2, 3…” he began. “Vittoria!” came the response. “Not loud enough,” he challenged, “One more time: 1, 2, 3…”, “Vittoria!”)

And the entertainment for the evening didn’t stop there: Kazushige Kirihata struck a couple of catwalk-esque poses when modelling the new goalkeepers’ kit, Jorge Wagner, the team’s latest addition from Brazil, introduced himself in Japanese (which was actually slightly more efficient than his translator, who forgot what he was translating at one point), and An Young Hak joked that North Korea had deliberately lost their final Asian Cup match so he could be back in time to appear at the event.

In fact, except for a mystifyingly long and serious description of the new kit for 2011 (which was delivered by an official from manufacturers Yonex and lasted longer than Nelsinho’s address to the audience) the majority of the conference was a light-hearted and enjoyable affair.

Indeed, the new signings all paid reference to the effect that the character of the club – and their inimitable fans – had on their decisions to join, and while such remarks are a must at any unveiling, they certainly sound more genuine when applied to Reysol.

Former Omiya midfielder An commented that, “My impression was that Kashiwa have a fevered support. Many people came today so I now realise the challenge; I want to play for such passionate supporters,” while Tatsuya Masushima, signed from Kyoto Sanga, said, “The fans here are fantastic. They have an influence on the opposing team right from the warm-up and I’m really looking forward to that.”

Of course, there was some serious talk of football as well, and as much as Kashiwa thrive upon their status as a compact, community club, their coach knows that they really have to put the effort in on the pitch as well as off it in the season ahead.

“2011 is a big season. Kashiwa is a winning team but we will have to compete because I think the level in J1 is high,” he said, before insisting that he is prepared and feels he has the players to succeed in J1.

“I have many plans, of course. We have tall players and creative players and our forwards are all capable of scoring goals.”

One thing’s for certain; with Kashiwa back in the mix 2011 will be kept interesting. The future’s bright.




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

  • RT @tphoto2005: 日本代表:小城達得、横山兼三、釜本邦茂、大野毅、菊川凱夫、上田忠彦、森孝慈、宮本輝紀、片山洋、杉山隆一、山口芳忠 Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Japan4-2 at Bökelbergstadion in Mönche… 14 hours ago
  • RT @inuunited: 403010101029290 https://t.co/Zs7VUlZl56 1 day ago
  • RT @FichotVincent: Japanese lawyer selling manual on how to legally alienate a child from the other parent. What is the ruling party doing… 2 days ago

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