Posts Tagged ‘Alberto Zaccheroni

14
Jun
12

Steady play from Honda has Japan sitting pretty

Japan will be happy with their start to the final round of qualifying for the Brazil 2014 World Cup after picking up two home wins and earning a draw away to Australia.

Integral to that success was the side’s new number four, Keisuke Honda, who was in commanding form throughout the qualifiers. I considered his importance to the Samurai Blue – and a few other talking points – for The Daily Yomiuri.

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.

02
Mar
12

Zac: Japan doomed by lack of will

Japan lost 1-0 to Uzbekistan on Wednesday night, condemning Alberto Zaccheroni to his first home defeat in charge of the Samurai Blue.

After the match I gathered reaction from Zac and the players for The Daily Yomiuri.

29
Feb
12

Zaccheroni’s building project ready for next battle

Japan play their final match of the 3rd Round of Asian Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup against Uzbekistan tonight.

Both teams are already through so all eyes are on Alberto Zaccheroni’s team selection, and in particular Ryo Miyaichi.

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.

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.

23
Jul
11

Asian Cup hero Lee looking for new challenge

Last weekend I visited Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s training complex in the mountains of Yoshida, and while I was there I sat down with their No.9 Tadanari Lee.

The Japan striker spoke about the way perceptions of him have changed since the Asian Cup, his decision to switch allegiances from South Korea to Japan, and the rumours about a move overseas.

24
Jun
11

Usami rightly made to wait

Takashi Usami’s recent call-up to the full national team, despite not getting on the pitch in the Kirin Cup, meant he missed out on Japan Under-22’s Olympic qualifiers. While there’s no doubting the youngster’s talent, it’s hard to disagree with either decision though…

I was delighted when Takashi Usami struck his wonderful goal against Shimizu S-Pulse a couple of weekends back, as it was nice to see the young forward doing exactly what he does best; playing football. And playing it very well.

Prior to that goal he had spent two weeks in the media for doing absolutely nothing. Or, to be totally correct, for having nothing done with him.

The cause of most of this excitement was initially his first inclusion in the Samurai Blue squad for the Kirin Cup.

Despite the fact that head coach Alberto Zaccheroni made it fairly clear when announcing the squad that Usami was unlikely to feature, this did not stop the speculation and anticipation from building around him, and not a training session passed without the player and coach being asked about the chances of a debut being made.

The hype around the 19-year-old was then heightened when the rumours that have long been circulating about him signing for Bayern Munich picked up some speed. The fact that one of the biggest clubs in the world were seemingly on the verge of recruiting the player only added to the sense of confusion about his lack of participation in the games.

Then, having not gotten onto the pitch for the full-side, Usami was denied the opportunity to do so for the Under-22s in their Olympic qualifiers against Kuwait – with Takashi Sekizuka’s decision not to include him in the squad again sparking much head-scratching and disbelief among the football community.

I, for one, don’t really see what the problem is though.

Firstly, while I would have liked, as a football fan, to have seen Gamba’s No. 11 take part in the Kirin Cup, I think it made perfect sense not to play him.

Zac stated that his primary motivation in calling Usami up was so that he could have the opportunity to work and speak with him over a prolonged period of time in training. He also made it clear that the player still had a lot to learn, and focused on the difference between league and international football.

If, as is expected, the player does move to Europe in the not-too-distant future then the chances to work with him for such a substantial amount of time will become fewer and farther between.

With that in mind it made perfect sense for Zac to have taken this opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with Usami, and to see for himself just how much potential the player has.

It was also understandable that the coach chose to keep his impressions to himself and not to send Usami out onto the pitch, where every fan, coach and journalist would be poring over his every movement, touch, pass and shot.

Of course, coping with such attention cannot be delayed forever, and there is certainly the argument that the longer it is put off the greater the sense of expectation will be.

However, entering the fray too early could have hindered Usami’s development, with there being the chance that it could go too badly – or too well.

Imagine he had come off the bench and struck the winner against the Czech’s – ensuring victory for Japan, the Golden Boot award and, most probably – when considering that the prize is almost always given to goalscorers in Japan, regardless of how well other players perform – the MVP award for Usami.

This would have been a hell of a lot to live up to.

Of course, things could have gone in completely the opposite direction and he could have had a nightmare debut and his confidence could have taken a large knock.

While unfortunate, and no fault of his own, his absence from the U-22s is also understandable.

Sekizuka san spent 10 days working on a system with particular players and, having been with Zac and co. during that time, Usami was not around for any of those sessions.

So why recall him? Even bringing in a player as gifted as Usami could upset the balance of the side at a time when mistakes could be very costly.

It is a real shame for the player that he is currently stuck in a kind of no-man’s land between the U-22 and full national teams, but I have no doubt at all that he will get his chance sooner or later.

12
Jun
11

Players keen to keep improving under Zac

The Samurai Blue may have failed to register any goals in the recent Kirin Cup but the players certainly benefited from the time together on the training pitch. 

After the final game of the tournament against the Czech Republic I got the thoughts of Eiji Kawashima, Maya Yoshida and Keisuke Honda, all of whom are keen to keep improving.

09
Jun
11

Stalemates still productive for Samurai Blue

The Kirin Cup may have ended a dead-tie – almost literally, with all three games ending 0-0 – but the Japanese national team were still able to take some positives from the tournament.

 

My consideration of the Samurai Blue’s performances can be found here.




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