Posts Tagged ‘Copa America

29
Aug
11

Tsumarinos

Recently I asked the readers of Weekly Soccer Magazine why the fun was being taken out of football so often these days…

After the euphoria of the Nadeshiko victory and the sheer enjoyment and excitement of that tournament, watching Paraguay and Venezuela kick, moan, shove and bore their way to a 0-0 draw and their own penalty shoot-out in the Copa America semi-final was hugely depressing.

Paraguay managed to book their place in the final despite the fact that they won none of their games in the tournament, and thankfully they were eventually made to pay for their negativity as Uruguay swept them aside 3-0.

The day before that game a UAE player had made headlines after a penalty incident of his own.

Awana Diab spun around as he reached the penalty spot before backheeling the ball (rather tamely, I’m not sure what the goalkeeper was doing) into the net. He was immediately substituted by his coach and threatened with fines and possible expulsion from the national team.

Then Mario Balotelli of Manchester City suffered a similar punishment after showboating instead of simply scoring in a pre-season friendly against David Beckham’s LA Galaxy.

I don’t really understand all this. Why is football suddenly supposed to be so serious? It is a sport that is meant to be enjoyed by players and fans alike, and if an individual has the ability (and the guts) to try something a little different then why not?

Neither of these games were especially important (UAE won 7-2 against Lebanon, Man City were trying to “expand their brand” in the USA), and football players have always had their own way of dealing with opponents (or teammates) who try and show-off.

Tricksters are fully aware of the fact that a kick from a defender – or, as in the famous picture of Vinnie Jones and Paul Gascoigne, a more painful attack – or a bollocking from a colleague if it doesn’t come off are the justifiable punishments they run the risk of receiving.

It is with this over-emphasis on seriousness and winning at any cost in mind that I for one say ‘no, it’s not’ to Kazushi Kimura’s question, “Is it ok to win this way?” after Yokohama F. Marinos beat Vissel Kobe 1-0 in Round 6.

At some point last season – when I had learned enough Japanese to start making some (bad) jokes – I began to refer to Kimura’s side as Tsumarinos (mixing tsumaranai – boring – with the team’s name).

This was because the team rarely offered up any particularly exciting football, sat in the no-man’s-land of mid-table mediocrity and, most importantly, played their home games in without doubt the worst football stadium in Japan – Yokohama International Stadium.

Through absolutely no fault of the fans – of whom there are often upwards of 20,000 – the place is a soulless vacuum, and perhaps if they played every match at Mitsuzawa then my initial impression of the team would have been different.

Marinos started this season brightly though – winning three of their first five games, scoring ten goals in the process – and in Yuji Ono they have one of the most exciting young talents in the J.League. After his explosive cameo in the rollercoaster 3-2 win against Avispa back in May it looked like I was going to have to re-arrange my position on the side.

But then things took a turn for the worse.

In recent weeks the team have maintained their strong form and returned to the top of the table for the first time in years, but they have done so by playing some fairly uninspiring football – usually sealing the three points by one-goal margins.

The best example was perhaps their game against Montedio Yamagata at Mitsuzawa (great atmosphere) when they scored within 15 seconds and then tried to bore poor Montedio into submission for the next hour. Yamagata persevered with their quick passing style and found a way back into the game though, only for the point to be snatched cruelly away by Kim Kun-hoan’s 95th minute winner.

Of course, the fans and players probably couldn’t care less how the wins come about – and last-gasp winners like Kim’s certainly bring excitement – but I personally like to see a team playing to their full attacking potential and winning games – or losing them – with a bit of bravado.

 Tsumarinos have the potential to do that, but do they have the guts?

31
Jul
11

Northern Leagues United

Onagawa Supporters, who I introduced to readers of Weekly Soccer Magazine back in April, are still going strong and recently received assistance from some friends in the north of England to help those in the north of Japan.

In the weeks after the tragedy of March 11th a great many statements and pledges were made declaring unity and a desire to help out whatever the cost during a time of great need. 

Whether it was celebrities competing to see who could donate the most millions of yen or clubs and federations vowing their flexibility, it seemed that nobody could do enough to make the recovery process easier.

T-shirts were printed – and are still being, apparently Lady Gaga and Posh Spice designed some to help raise their profiles… sorry, money for the victims – CDs were recorded and commercials quickly made to help the situation.

While a great deal of these efforts were made with the best of intentions and have undoubtedly helped people in real need, sadly a lot was little more than empty rhetoric.

Consider, for example, the failure of the J.League, JFA and clubs of overseas-based players to arrive at a compromise and the Samurai Blue’s consequent withdrawal from the Copa America; Team as One? ‘Well, yeah, but not if we have to do without our best players.’ Stand with Japan? ‘Of course, but we have pre-season training then so sorry, he’s not going to Argentina.’

And while this is disappointing, unfortunately it is unavoidable.

Sadly, as time goes by the impact lessens and people, however well-meaning, start to lose enthusiasm. Just how much Japan playing in the Copa America would have helped is very much open to debate, for instance – even more so when you have a multi-million pound footballer who could be getting injured there and missing the new season for you.

While several of the grander proposals have fizzled out or been caught up in bureaucratic red-tape though, a great many smaller campaigns are still going strong and bringing about real change in the affected areas.

Some of you may remember that back in April I wrote about the plight of Cobaltore Onagawa and the group that was founded to help the club stay in existence, Onagawa Supporters.

This was, essentially, two English football fans with loose attachments to Onagawa who wanted to help out somehow.

Well, the group is still going strong and has raised enough money to replace the kits of the Cobaltore Under-12s, -15s and -18s, all of which were destroyed in the disaster. 

Also, while the top team will not be playing at all this season as the players are helping out in the town in more practical ways, the Under-18s have returned to competitive action – in their new uniforms – and recently took part in the Tohoku Club Youth tournament alongside the likes of Vegalta Sendai and Montedio Yamagata.

Furthermore, as a result of the publicity created by Onagawa Supporters, a unique charity event – Northern Leagues United – took place in the north of England at the start of July to raise further funds to keep Cobaltore’s youth teams in operation in 2011.

Three matches were played at the home of Birtley Town Football Club (who play in the English Northern League) – including the inaugural ‘Onagawa Cup’ – and Mike Innes of Onagawa Supporters described the event as “an expression of support for Cobaltore from the grassroots football community in the north-east of England”.

Nearly 300 people were in attendance – breaking Birtley’s record – and hundreds of pounds were donated to help the cause.

While the money raised sounds modest, 100% of it will go directly to Cobaltore and will help cover the real, day-to-day costs of keeping the club in existence.

A message from General Manager of Cobaltore, Koichi Ohmi, was read out to all in attendance at Birtley by Susan Andrews of Onagawa Supporters, which said:

“I want us all to keep going, to make the people we love and the community we love happy once more.  Together, we will stand up, and walk on towards a brighter future.”

Indeed, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is a slogan and song that has been adopted by Japan as the nation works to rebuild.

The actions of a small town in the north of England – in which, like Onagawa, the football club provides a central focus – demonstrates the extent to which this message has spread, and provides further proof of the power of football to create meaningful relationships and bring about real change in even the toughest circumstances.

             *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *                    *

続けていくことが

復興への第一歩に

3月11日の東日本大震災以降、人々は被災地を助けるため、さまざまな行動を起こしてきた。これまで、多くの芸能人やお偉いさんが義援金を寄付しており、この働きかけはまだ続いている。

レディー・ガガやポッシュ・スパイス(ビクトリア・ベッカム)はTシャツをデザインし、売り上げを義援金に回している。CDをリリースする人がいれば、CMをつくる人もいる。もちろん、こういった働きかけは、被災者の方の手助けになってきたはずだ。同時に、ただ単に美辞麗句を並べ立てた物もある。

例えば、日本人を抱える海外クラブが選手を出し渋り、日本代表はコパ・アメリカに参加できなかった。「シーズン前の練習があるから、アルゼンチンに送り込むことはできない」というクラブ側の声が聞こえてきそうだった。

悲しいけれど、どうしようもない。

残念だけど、どんなに衝撃的な出来事も時間が経つと心の中から消えていく。善意があっても徐々に熱意を失ってものなのだと思う。日本がコパ・アメリカに出場していたら、どれほど国民に勇気を与えていたかも分からない。クラブからすれば、週に数千万円を稼ぐ選手にケガをさせたくないものなのだろう。

ただ、力は小さくとも、被災地の復興のため、義援活動を続ける地域もある。4月、僕はこのコラムで、コバルトーレ女川の存続のため、あるグループを創設したことについて触れた。2人のイングランド人が何とか資金を集めて、日本のクラブを助けようというものだ。

活動は今も続いており、コバルトーレ女川のU-12、U-15、U-18用のユニフォームを買いそろえることもできた。女川のトップチームが今季プレーするのは無理だけど、Uー18は本格的に活動を再開。仙台ユースや山形ユースとともに東北クラブユース選手権に参加した。

また、イングランドの女川サポーターが広告を続けたことで、ユニークなイベントも行なわれている。7月上旬、女川のU-18を支えるため、ノザン・リーグ・ユナイテッドという義援活動を開催。バートリー・タウンFCというクラブのグラウンドを使用し、3試合行なった。この試合にはバートリーの新記録となる300人の観衆が集結。すべての義援金は女川に届けられた。

このイベントが始まる前には、コバルトーレの近江弘一GMのコメントも読み上げられた。

「人々や地域が幸せを取り戻せるよう、この活動を続けていきましょう。一緒に立ちあがり、歩んでいきましょう」

イングランド北部の小さい町での行動だけど、そのアクションは日本のユースチームの再建に役立っている様子。サッカーを通じて連係を深め、生活に変化をもたらせることは、十分可能なのだ。

18
May
11

The Back Post – Wasted time waffling over Copa

First they were going to the Copa America, then they weren’t, then they were again…

Anyway, now they’re not so I thought someone should ask the JFA why it took quite so long to decide.

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.

31
Dec
10

Where’s the Endo the road?

I wanted to write a season review and look ahead to the next one for my last Soccer Magazine column of 2010. The congested structure of the Japanese football season made this a little tricky though…

As I sat on the plane to England for my hard-earned Christmas holiday I began to write this week’s column. Seeing as the 2010 season has almost concluded and the New Year is fast approaching, a reflection on the past season and look forward to the next initially seemed like a good idea.

Then I stumbled upon a problem. Just when did the last season begin, when would it finish and when exactly would the new one begin? I began to go through my notes and searched for a period in the last year-and-a-half when there hadn’t been any Japanese football taking place.

It turned out there hadn’t been one, and there wasn’t going to be for some time to come.

To demonstrate the intensity of the schedule, put yourself into the shoes of Endo Yasuhito for a moment.

The 2009 J.League season started in March and officially came to an end with a 2-0 victory over JEF last December, but there was still the Emperor’s Cup which didn’t conclude until New Year’s Day 2010.

A couple of weeks after winning that he was training with the national team in preparation for the East Asian Championship and just 10 days after China secured victory at Kokuritsu he was back in action for Gamba, playing against Suwon in Korea in the ACL.

The 2010 J.League season was then underway, but, mercifully, after just 12 rounds of matches there was a break. Oh, not for Yatto, as this ‘break’ was for the World Cup and he was off to South Africa (via Switzerland and Austria).

After playing every minute for Okada san at the tournament there was still no time to put his feet up as J.League games were back on and his team needed him after a fairly miserable showing in the first part of the season. 

He helped to turn things around for Nishino san, got his regular spot in the J.League Best Eleven and can finally look forward to…the Emperor’s Cup. Again?! Oh well, just three more matches at the most and then he can take some time off.

But wait! The Asian Cup! 

OK, if he can just put it in in Qatar and then surely he can take it easy for a little while?

Oh no, hang on, then the 2011 ACL and J.League season will be getting underway, then there’s another ‘break’ – this time for the Copa America – the end of the J.League, probably the Emperor’s Cup (there’s always the Emperor’s Cup – if only he had Tulio’s timing when it came to injuries)…it never seems to end – and potentially won’t until January 2012, almost three years after this sequence began.

This, of course, is an extreme case but it demonstrates wonderfully the problems that the current fixture list makes possible for the best Japanese players.

Also, while only a small minority of players take part in this whole schedule, the J.League as a whole is not helped by all of these mini-breaks which disrupt the flow of the season and detract from the momentum of the title chase and relegation battle.

The only answer, in my opinion, has to be a shift to the European August – May season.

This would not interfere with Japan’s major bi-annual tournaments (the Asian Cup – interestingly, with the 2022 World Cup in mind – is only being held in January this time because of the intensity of Qatar’s summer) and commitments such as the East Asian Championship could always be used to provide University or fringe players with vital national team experience.

The Nabisco Cup could cease it’s group format and become a simple knockout competition – which would make it easier for it and the Emperor’s Cup to run within the regular season – and it would also mean that clubs could easier deal with the increasingly frequent loss of their best players to the European leagues, with their departures coming in the Japanese off-season, rather than in the very middle.

Bringing about such changes would surely provide J.League players with more recuperation time and, most importantly, give the league the chance to run consistently, from start to finish with no breaks – which can only be a good thing for all concerned.

03
Dec
10

Copa load of this…

With Japan travelling to Argentina next year as special invitees to the Copa America I decided to focus a little on the competition for my Weekly Soccer Magazine column last week. Many thanks to Sebastian Garcia (www.mundoalbiceleste.com) for his assistance with the article.

The draw for the 2011 Copa America was made on November 11th and Japan’s inclusion has raised some eyebrows – with certain parties suggesting that the Samurai Blue’s presence devalues the competition and turns it into more of an exhibition. The team is sure to benefit greatly from the experience though, and it will be interesting to see what kind of squad Alberto Zaccheroni decides to take with him to Argentina.

Japan will come up against Colombia, Bolivia and, most excitingly, Argentina in Group A and, in order to find out a little more about what the team can expect, I sat down with Sebastian Garcia, an Argentine football journalist and editor of mundoalbiceleste.com, and picked his brains.

Colombia, the 2001 Copa America champions, are Japan’s first opponents and the defence will have to be wary of two players in particular. Striker Radamel Falcao Garcia currently plays for Portuguese side FC Porto and, as a graduate of the River Plate youth team, will be a popular player around the country during the tournament.

Possibly starting alongside him, although probably slightly further back, will be Racing Club’s no. 10 Giovanni Moreno. Moreno is a free-kick specialist who Seba informs me looks slow but is almost impossible to catch once he gets going.

This match will take place in Jujuy, which is nicknamed the ‘little silver cup’. Jujuy is famous for its salt-fields and is the hometown of former Argentina international Ariel Ortega. The venue, Estadio 23 de Agosto, is home to Gimnasia y Esgrima de Jujuy – who wear the same colours as the Argentina national team – and is also where Japan will play their next match against Bolivia.

Bolivia experienced a difficult World Cup qualifying campaign, finishing second to bottom with just Peru below them. Despite this they will have a slight home-field advantage, with Jujuy actually closer to Bolivia (290km) than it is to Buenos Aires (1,525km).  The Bolivians will also be more used to the altitude, although, at 1,259 metres it is not quite as severe as La Paz. Their main threat will be Marcelo Moreno Martins, their half-Brazilian striker who plays for Shakhtar Donetsk.

Finally, hopefully with 6 points already in the bag, Japan will head south to Cordoba where they will face Argentina for top spot in the group!

Cordoba is situated exactly in the middle of Argentina and is the hometown of former Shimizu S-Pulse coach Ossie Ardiles and 1978 World Cup top scorer Mario Kempes – after whom the city’s Copa America venue is named.

Argentina are tied with Uruguay for the most Copa America titles (14), although they haven’t triumphed since 1993 – the last major trophy they won.

Sergio Batista – who was caretaker boss for the 1-0 defeat in Saitama in October and is now in permanent charge – played in Japan for Tosu Futures in the 1995/96 season, and, like Zaccheroni, will still be in the relatively early stages of forming his team.

As such, while Argentina is sure to be full of household names, it is likely that there may be one or two new faces in action come July. Seba’s one-to-watch is Palermo’s Javier Pastore, who is from Cordoba and so sure to receive a warm reception from the home fans.

The Copa America falls in the off-season for the European leagues so most of Japan’s big names will probably be able to travel, and the J.League’s finest will also be available with the division taking a break for the tournament.

Having been in Guangzhou for the past month watching Takashi Sekizuka’s U21 team at the Asian Games, I would personally like to see a couple of those players given a chance too though – particularly captain Kazuya Yamamura and, of course, the much-feted Kensuke Nagai.

The on-field antics sure to be taking place in South America will be a million miles away from the University leagues back in Japan, and the opportunity to learn more about the ‘nasty’ side of the game would aid their development greatly.

Such first-hand experience would also be vital for these players when bearing in mind that that many of them will be hoping to be involved in the next World Cup in Brazil just three years later.




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

  • RT @alexchidiac10: Proud to make my debut for @jef_united in the first season of the @WE_League_JP ▶️ Thank you to all the #JEFUnited fans… 1 day ago
  • RT @DaftLimmy: I remember being in somebody's house when I was 16, in 1991, and their maw and da had Beach Boys CDs. They seemed like a dea… 2 days ago
  • 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… 3 days ago

Receive an email each time I post something new and/or interesting by...

Join 41 other followers

Back Catalogue

what day is it?

September 2021
M T W T F S S
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930