Posts Tagged ‘Japan national team

20
Jun
12

Would the Samurai Blue slay the Three Lions?

Japan have the look of a well-oiled machine at the moment, while England continue to crunch functionally through the gears. This week I pondered who would come out on top if the two were to come head-to-head anytime soon…

After Japan got the final round of World Cup qualifiers off to a winning start with a 3-0 win over Oman I was asked an interesting question.

Somebody on twitter wondered who I thought would win between the Samurai Blue and England if they were to play a two-legged home and away contest.

My response was that surely Japan would be the favourites.

The manner in which they so easily overcame Oman and then destroyed Jordan should be taken with a pinch of salt, but, at the same time, it is an indicator of just how good this side is when compared to previous squads.

The team which did so well at the 2010 World Cup finals was impressive but far from convincing in the last stage of qualifying, drawing three times and winning just once at home.

While beating the team teams ranked 97th and 80th in the world looks fairly standard, then, for Japan such comfortable victories are not traditionally the norm.

Not only did they manage to gather the six points with a 9-0 aggregate scoreline but the swagger and poise with which they cast their opponents aside demonstrated that Alberto Zaccheroni’s team has tremendous belief in their own ability.

Contrast that with perhaps the least interesting England side in living memory and you can see why I would give Japan the edge.

24 hours before Keisuke Honda and co. picked up a strong point away to Australia to confirm their place at the top of Group B, the Three Lions bored the world to tears in an excruciating performance against France at the European Championships.

In Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck there was undoubted potential to attack a dodgy-looking French defence, but instead of trying their luck the English players opted for a ‘solid’ approach.

Part of this problem is undoubtedly mental – goalscorer (header from a free-kick, of course) Joleon Lescott commented after the match that, “You know what you will get with an English team – plenty of pride and passion” – but there was also a depressing lack of basic ability on display amongst those in the white shirt.

This was most obvious when James Milner failed to convert after rounding the keeper early on, and although the angle was tight, his rigidity and complete absence of technique wonderfully summed up the English style.

There is always plenty of talk in England about the impact that foreign imports to the Premier League have had on the domestic game, but the national team stubbornly refuses to move on from the idea that success comes from playing the game with “pride” and “passion.”

The steadily increasing contact between Japanese players and the European game is having a positive influence on the Samurai Blue, though.

Keisuke Honda, who was the pivot from which all of Japan’s positive play stemmed against Oman, Jordan, and Australia, was in no doubt as to why the current crop of players are the best he has been involved with.

“The reason is very simple,” he said after the demolition of Jordan. “Now we have many players who play overseas. Japanese players always like ball possession and passing but foreign football always attacks more directly.

“Yatto-san [Yasuhito Endo] and [Makoto] Hasebe-san have great passing skills and our attackers are very direct so that combination is very good for us.”

The Australia game provided a far sterner test – not least because the pitch in Brisbane had been used for a rugby match just three days earlier and the referee was seemingly taking charge of a football match for the first time – but Japan did well to deal with the Socceroos more “English” style of attack (long, high balls up front and crosses into the box at any opportunity).

I asked Yasuhito Endo after the Jordan game if this was the best Japan team he had played in, and while he didn’t go quite that far he did suggest it was unique.

“I feel that the national team is always very good but in this team we have many special players,” he said. “Opponents now are afraid of Japan.”

England would be no different, and Zac Japan could certainly teach Roy Hodgson’s team a thing or two about the beautiful game.

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.

13
Jun
12

Miyaichi-ban

Ryo Miyaichi has earned a lot of admirers in the past year-and-a-half, as much for his off-field performances as those on it…

I knew absolutely nothing about Ryo Miyaichi before he was plucked from the obscurity of Japanese High School football by Arsene Wenger back in 2010, and only kept half an eye on him when he was first loaned out to Feyenoord.

More and more Japanese players are making the journey west so I saw no reason to pay special attention to the former Chukyo Dai Chukyo winger.

To me the deal represented a fairly low-risk move by Arsenal: if he struggled to adapt he could easily be shipped out without anybody noticing, while Wenger would again be lauded for having an eye for natural – and cheap (or, more precisely, free) – talent if he turned out to be something special.

His impressive spells on loan at Feyenoord and then Bolton suggest that it may very well be the latter though, and his stock has risen even higher since he was called up to the national team by Alberto Zaccheroni for the final match in the third round of World Cup qualifying against Uzbekistan in Toyota.

I spoke to him in the mixed zone after that game, and gained my first real insight into what had enabled him to progress so rapidly through the ranks.

As well as being an obviously very gifted footballer, his mentality and personality hugely impressed me and he appears to have all the tools to fulfil his vast potential.

I asked if he was ok to try a conversation in English, fully expecting him to say no, but he smiled and said he’d give it a go.

He then expressed himself clearly and openly in his second language for several minutes, after just over a year outside of Japan, and it was clear he was having a lot of fun in England.

“I enjoy it every day, I can play at a higher level,” he said.

“I’m happy to play in the Premier League and also I’m living alone so I am really enjoying every day.”

After the match with Oman I spoke with his next-door neighbour in Bolton, the Wigan Athletic goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.

He, too, remarked upon Miyaichi’s personality.

“He’s really keen and he’s confident in himself and he can go forward,” he said.

“He’s still really, really young. At that age if you are at Arsenal that means you are a good player.”

I don’t socialise with them so can’t possibly claim to know for sure how other Japanese players in Europe spend their free time, but the impression is that many of them seem to relax together, in effect segregating themselves from their non-Japanese teammates.

As an Englishman living overseas I know full well how nice it is to spend time with people who share a common language and culture.

However, at the same time I know that I must put in the effort to truly benefit from and enjoy my time in Japan.

Miyaichi seems to have no problem with that side of living overseas.

Mixed zones – especially during national team camps, when papers and websites are in need of daily comments – tend to be fairly serious and stressful.

At a training session ahead of the Oman game though, I joined a group huddled around Miyaichi and was surprised to hear them discussing the Omani food that his neighbour had made for him.

Sensing a rare opportunity for some light-hearted conversation I asked what he thought of English cuisine.

I don’t really like English food,” he replied, almost apologetically.

This is a fairly common response (and completely incorrect one) but I persevered and – tongue-in-cheek – asked what his thoughts were on the traditional fish and chips.

Politely he said with a grin, “Fish and Chips is bad for you.”

Of course, such questioning is not exactly hard-hitting journalism.

Miyaichi’s relaxed and friendly manner is a breath of fresh air though, and the way he deals with the pressures of his newfound stardom off the pitch as well as on it mark him out as one who could really go on to achieve great things.

I did, however, discover something he’s not good at when I asked Al Habsi about the preparation of their dinners.

“I do all of it,” he laughed.

“He’s too young. He has to learn how to cook.”

12
Jun
12

Japan aims to stay on roll in clash with Australia

Japan’s first two games in the final round of qualifying for Brazil 2014 went better than anybody could have expected, with 3-0 and 6-0 home wins over Oman and Jordan, respectively.

Tonight they take on Australia in what is sure to be their toughest game yet. The players are confident, though, and as Yasuhito Endo, Keisuke Honda, Eiji Kawashima and Yuto Nagatomo said after the romp over Jordan, they are aiming for a third consecutive win in Brisbane.

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.

06
Jun
12

Creeping up from Down Under

The development of the J.League has been far smoother than that of the Australian A-League, and the most high-profile clash between Japan and Australia saw the Samurai Blue come out on top in last year’s Asian Cup final. The Japanese game may have the upper hand at the moment, but Australian football is steadily closing the gap…  

Next week sees the latest instalment in what is steadily becoming a very interesting rivalry in the Asian game, when Japan travel to Brisbane to take on Australia in the final round of World Cup qualifiers.

Leaving aside the fact that Australia is not actually in Asia – and that in ‘The Socceroos’ it has the most ridiculous nickname in world football – the steadily increasing competition between the two countries is without doubt having a positive impact on the game on both sides of the Pacific.

It is fairly obvious that one of the key reasons for the FFA (Football Federation Australia)’s decision to join the AFC was to increase its chances of making it to World Cup finals (Oceania has just half a spot and must contest a play-off against a side from another federation, while Asian qualification offers four-and-a-half berths), and they and Japan are clear favourites to make it to Brazil from Group B.

Further to that there was also undoubtedly a desire to face a higher standard of opponent though, and both at a national team and club level this is seemingly helping the Australian game to improve.

In the same way that Japanese players are becoming more accustomed to the physical side of the game thanks to their increasingly frequent meetings with their bigger, stronger opponents from down under, the Aussie’s are also picking up pointers from their more technically adept rivals.

After last month’s ACL game between FC Tokyo and Brisbane Roar, for instance, the Roar players were full of praise for their opposite numbers.

“In the A-League the style they play is different,” Bahraini defender Mohamed Adnan said.

“Here they try to keep the ball. [In Australia] they try to play long balls or challenge, they use fitness. But here they are more technical than in the A-League.”

His teammate Besart Berisha was also impressed with FC Tokyo, insisting that he and his teammates were aiming for a similar style of play.

They really work together,” the Albanian said. “The way they do this is perfect, the way they understand each other. The way they move is blind – I say always like this, blind; they know where the other players are, and this is beautiful.”

A third Roar player, Ivan Franjic, added to the praise for the J.League side, but insisted that the Australians were steadily closing the gap.

“They’re very talented and gifted technically, but the A-League’s still a great standard and is going up every year.”

Far from being a one-off in the case of Brisbane – perceived by many to be the most attractive Australian side – he also paid reference to the fact that fellow A-League sides are increasingly enjoying success against J.League opponents in the ACL.

“I definitely think we’re not that far off,” the 24-year-old added. “You can see with the other teams, Central Coast and Adelaide, you can see that the standard is catching up very quick.”

One Aussie who knows all too well about how the game back home is improving is Josh Kennedy, whose Nagoya Grampus side were knocked out of the ACL in the Round of 16 by Adelaide United.

The top scorer in the J.League for the past two seasons is, of course, particularly looking forward to the game with the Samurai Blue.

“I wish Tulio was still in the team, that’d be good,” he joked shortly after the draw had been made, before setting aside digs at his club teammate to address the rivalry between the countries more seriously.

“Obviously if you go by rankings it’s us and Japan to get through but there’s always surprises, always other teams that’ll step up and give it a good shot.”

With that in mind it is tempting to suggest that they may both take it easy and settle for a draw in Brisbane on Tuesday.

If Kennedy has his way that won’t be the case though, and he insists that the growing competition between the two countries means the home side are keen to get one over on the Samurai Blue.

“There’s an Australian-Japan rivalry that we all have now, especially with them winning the Asian Cup, so we’ll definitely be wanting to win that first game against them and I’m looking forward to it.”

03
Jun
12

Japan expects nothing less than win over Oman

The last round of Asian qualifying for the Brazil 2014 World Cup gets underway tonight, and Japan’s first match is at home to Oman.

Ahead of the game I gathered the opinions of Mike Havenaar, Yasuhito Endo, Shinji Kagawa, Ryo Miyaichi and Keisuke Honda  for a preview for The Daily Yomiuri.

10
May
12

The Mixed Zone with…Tomoaki Makino

For the latest installment of my interview series on the J.League website I chatted with Urawa Reds and Japan defender Tomaki Makino.

Amongst other things he spoke about his year playing in Germany and subsequent return to the J.League, his role for the national team, and just what Japanese players need to do to be successful overseas.

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.




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