Posts Tagged ‘Emperor’s Cup

17
Jan
11

Cup of Kings

There may no longer be a huge amount of prestige attached to winning the English FA Cup – largely because there is no real benefit of winning the tournament – but the winners of the football association cup in Japan certainly have an extra incentive.

Although many see the Emperor’s Cup as little more than a consolation prize, I am happy that the winners get Japan’s fourth and final Asian Champions League spot. As far as I’m concerned, winning a trophy is more of an achievement than finishing fourth in the league and the ‘Champions’ league should be contested by champions.

Speaking after Kashima defeated Shimizu on New Year’s Day, Oswaldo Oliveira was delighted to have won the competition for the second time and his comments highlighted the importance of adding the extra incentive of a Champions League spot to the competition.

“I was worrying about this (qualifying for the Champions League) because it will be our fourth time to play in the tournament since 2008. If we missed out on 2011, I would feel very sad.”

“I couldn’t allow myself to end the year without winning a title so this victory means a lot to me.”

Match-winner Takuya Nozawa also reflected on the value of the victory, commenting that, “We really wanted to qualify for the Asian Champions League and we got it done. Although we weren’t able to win four straight J.League titles I feel that in part we made up for it by winning the Emperor’s Cup.”

This hits the nail on the head, and while a strong league finish demonstrates consistency over the course of the season it does not bring with it the same thrills and tensions as a cup run. Players should want to be winning trophies rather than finishing in third place in the league.

Last weekend was the third round of the famous English FA Cup – the tournament on which the Emperor’s Cup is based. Despite the history and tradition attached to this trophy however, very few of England’s big teams are really too concerned with the competition any more, with fourth place in the Premier League offering more financial gain and the chance of Champions League football. The FA Cup does not currently provide a gateway to that continental competition.

In last year’s third round – when Premier League teams enter the draw – Manchester United lost at home to Leeds United, who are now playing in the third tier of English football, while Liverpool fell to defeat against Championship side Reading at Anfield; both teams had bigger fish to fry.

This lack of interest in the cup was then contrasted by the depressingly over-the-top celebrations by Tottenham Hotspur when they beat Manchester City to secure fourth-place in the Premier League.

Champagne corks were popping and the manager, Harry Redknapp, was showered by a bucket of iced water as the players celebrated their achievement.

Redknapp, who had won the FA Cup with his former side Portsmouth in 2008, made it abundantly clear which success he valued more greatly, exclaiming that.

“It’s even better than winning the Cup. The Cup you can win with some lucky draws. You all know that if you can get some nice draws, three or four wins and you are there. But I think this a better achievement.”

He then continued by claiming that, having secured a qualification spot for the European competition, his team’s final league position didn’t actually matter too much.

“I just wanted to finish fourth but the chairman has just asked me who Arsenal are playing on Sunday and I think he wants to see if we can finish above them. I’m just happy with fourth.”

This is a sad indication of the plight of modern football, with finishing fourth in one competition – not even a medal position in other sports – being deemed of greater value than coming first in another.

Unfortunately, such an attitude is understandable though, and, while it would be great for teams to want to win a trophy for nothing more than prestige and glory, the financial pressures on professional clubs these days mean that is just not realistic.

By having the final ACL position tied up with victory in the Emperor’s Cup, the JFA is doing better than the English FA in keeping its teams interested in its cup competition though, and as long as that bonus is attached to lifting the trophy, J.League teams will have to keep treating the tournament with respect.

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.

02
Dec
10

The back post – Pixie’s planning pays off

Last month Nagoya Grampus won the J.League for the first time, ending Kashima Antlers’ recent dominance over the division. I considered the key reasons behind this success in my column for the Daily Yomiuri, ‘The Back Post’.

Nagoya Grampus sealed its first ever J.League championship at the weekend, and head coach Dragan “Pixie” Stojkovic should be congratulated on a job very well done.

It is easy to dismiss the Red Whales’ achievement as a direct result of the club’s financial clout, but winning a domestic title is no mean feat, regardless of the budget you are operating on.

There are a host of teams around the world who have tried and failed to buy success, and while many clubs get carried away with the funds available to them often overloading on attacking players Nagoya has taken a slightly more measured approach.

In short, Stojkovic has opted to build a team rather than a bloated collection of individuals. After finishing in ninth place in 2009, sixteen points behind champions Kashima Antlers, seasoned Urawa Reds centerback Marcus Tulio Tanaka, 21-year-old Mu Kanazaki from relegated Oita Trinita and Consadole Sapporo’s Guatemalan enforcer Danilson were all brought in to boost the squad, with Stojkovic suggesting at the start of the season that such acquisitions were vital if the side were to triumph in the league.

The Serb, speaking at the J.League’s “Kick-off Conference” in January, was adamant that success not only comes from having the best players, but also by virtue of having the most options.

“Football is now about the squad and that is why I feel that the team this year is better equipped for success,” he said. “Now we have much more strength-in-depth.”

The wealth of backups available has been invaluable throughout the season, and as their title rivals slowly fell away Nagoya was able to use the full extent of its resources and keep ploughing on.

The first elevens of Shimizu S-Pulse and Gamba Osaka, for example, are both capable of matching Grampus’ first choice lineup, but once injuries and suspensions came into play and these teams lost key players they did not have others of the same calibre to bring in and replace them.

Clubs who would have benefited from experienced squad players such as Igor Burzanovic and Alessandro Santos have not only been handicapped by injuries this season, but the increasing number of J.League players earning moves abroad has also proved a hindrance, with important players moving on and not being replaced.

Kashima lost half of their back four when Atsuto Uchida and Lee Jung Soo departed for pastures new, while perennial runnersup Kawasaki Frontale had the spine ripped from their team when Eiji Kawashima and Chong Tae Se headed to Europe on the back of their impressive World Cup campaigns.

Nagoya, on the other hand, remained intact, and when they did have to deal with injuries they coped with a minimum of fuss. Both Tulio and Kanazaki have been unavailable for selection in recent weeks, for instance, but Mitsuru Chiyotanda and Yoshizumi Ogawa have slotted into the team effortlessly in their absence.

Nagoya’s talismanic front-man and top-scorer Josh Kennedy is well aware of the importance of having top players in reserve, and after a hard-fought win over Jubilo Iwata in March he was effusive in his praise of the squad.

“I think this year that the one thing we do have, we have a really good bench and we should benefit from that. The guys who come on should also be starting; theyd probably start in any other J.League team, so it’s a a big plus for us to have those options.”

Also, while initially appearing to be a disappointment, Kennedy suggested the team’s failure to qualify for the 2010 Asian Champions League may actually have been a blessing in disguise.

“We’ve got a little bit more depth, whereas last season we were stretched with the Champions League and Emperor’s Cup, which took a lot out of us. We didn’t really have the players to back up the starting eleven players and replace people.”

That depth has proved invaluable this time around and, as their closest contenders stumbled along the way, Stojkovic’s careful planning ensured Nagoya was able to stay fresh and focused all the way to the finish line.




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