Posts Tagged ‘Josh Kennedy

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.”

08
May
12

On the spot

It is often assumed that penalty kicks are foregone conclusions, and some even suggest that strikers who inflate their scoring ratios from 12-yards should have their hauls judged accordingly. If you ask me that’s ridiculous… 

This week I want to take the opportunity to discuss the issue of penalty kicks.

Josh Kennedy, the J.League’s top-scorer for the past two seasons, has often had his achievement questioned in some quarters because of the fact that he is Nagoya Grampus’s penalty taker and thus is assumed to have an advantage in the race for the golden boot (and hideous sponsors’ trinkets).

Personally, I’ve always felt that was nonsense and recent events have served to back me up.

Three former World Player of the Year winners – Kaka, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – all failed from 12-yards in their Champions League semi-finals, and their misses prove that penalties are far from being as good as a goal.

When I played football back in England I was generally used as a fairly ineffective defender.

Because of that I wasn’t exactly a regular on the scoresheet, and any chances that did fall my way tended to end up anywhere but the back of the net.

However, when it came to penalties as an enthusiastic teenager I was always first to raise my hand.

I can still remember the first time I volunteered to take a spot-kick as part of a penalty shoot-out when I would have been 17 or so.

Several of my more attack-minded (and more talented) older teammates weren’t keen to have a go so I offered my services.

My manager pretended not to hear me and asked again who fancied one.

I again raised my hand and said I’d take the fifth kick – I fancied a bit of glory.

After realising no one else was going to volunteer he grudgingly accepted and I duly tucked my kick away and we won the game.

At the time I really couldn’t work out why my teammates were so nervous. To me it was just like completing a pass to a teammate. The goal wasn’t far away, all I had to do was pass the ball to the corner before the keeper got there; nothing to it.

Another penalty shoot-out came about and I again took last and again scored the winner. Having proved it wasn’t a fluke I was then installed as the team’s regular penalty taker.

Of course, as we all know, in every story the protagonist suffers a fall just when everything seems to be going well.

I had grown up watching Eric Cantona coolly slot home penalty after penalty and until that point my youth and naivety meant I was so full of confidence I would score it never entered my mind that I might not.

A couple of penalties down the line those doubts did eventually surface.

It was a bit of a windy day and as I was placing the ball on the spot I heard a teammate comment to an opponent that there was no way I would miss.

“What if do miss?” I thought.

And that was it. Suddenly the goal seemed tiny, the keeper looked huge and the breeze appeared stronger. I doubted if I could even reach the goal-line, let alone cross it.

Needless to say my attempt was saved and my confidence from 12 yards evaporated.

The level I was playing at was completely inconsequential compared to a Champions League tie – perhaps a couple of dozen spectators and the odd dog – and while J.League games are also a step away from the very elite level, keeping your emotions in check in front of thousands of expectant or jeering fans is no mean feat.

I put the question to Kennedy himself after a Grampus game earlier this season and he, too, insisted that spot-kicks are far from straightforward.

“Penalties are harder to score than people think,” he said. “If I had the choice between a sort of half-chance in the game or a penalty I’d rather have a half-chance.”

The fact that there is thinking time adds to the pressure, and it is dealing with that, more than the technique, which separates those who can from those who can’t.

Therefore, nothing should be taken away from Kennedy or any other players who bolster their records from 12 yards.

The man himself put it best.

“At the end of the day they all count. They all win games and that’s how I see it.”

06
Dec
11

My Team of the Year

Last night was the J.League’s annual awards ceremony, where the official word was had on the best of the 2011 season. For this week’s Soccer Magazine I decided to pick my Best XI (and a substitutes bench, just to cover my back a little).

A 4-1-2-2-1 (ish) formation best suited the players I went for – although I did have to crowbar a couple into slightly unfamiliar positions – and I tried my best to take into account players’ individual achievements rather than those of their club as a whole.

Anyway, enough excuses, here’s my team.

Goalkeeper: Takuto Hayashi (Vegalta Sendai): Ever-present in the league and a fantastic presence between the posts. Kept clean sheets in nearly half of his matches and provided a great base for the side to build from and enjoy their best ever season.

Right Back: Hiroki Sakai (Kashiwa Reysol): A constant threat when his side is attacking and supplements his aggressive and direct approach play with fantastic crossing ability. Doesn’t shirk at the back either, and is the model of the modern full-back.

Centre Back: Makoto Kakuda (Vegalta Sendai): Strong in the tackle, a good organiser and, like his goalkeeper, has been integral to Vegalta’s success. Has also chipped in with a couple of goals and assists and isn’t afraid of the physical side of the game at either end of the pitch.

Centre Back: Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Nagoya Grampus): Still an intimidating presence at the heart of the Grampus defence. Not the quickest and, yes, he does get too much respect from referees and opponents alike, but his attitude has helped to build that persona and his performances invariably back it up.

Left Back: Jorge Wagner (Kashiwa Reysol): OK, he’s not really a left-back but that’s where he started the season and it’s where he’d play in my team. Always uses the ball intelligently and rarely loses possession. On top of that his goal tally is in the double figures.

Defensive Midfield: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka): Yet again he has been the conductor in the Gamba midfield. Always composed and totally controls the pace of the game, as well as popping up with numerous defence-splitting passes and timely goals. Pure class.

Central Midfield: Takuya Nozawa (Kashima Antlers): Usually lines up wider and further forward but, in this hypothetical team, I would use him more centrally. Another calm-and-collected player who is always thinking two or three passes ahead. Scored or set up nearly half of Antlers’ goals.

Central Midfield: Leandro Domingues (Kashiwa Reysol): Like Nozawa and Endo, Domingues is responsible for controlling the speed at which his team plays. Comfortable when collecting the ball from his defenders or in the final third and deadly in front of goal.

Right Midfield: Genki Haraguchi (Urawa Reds): A coach at Reds suggested to me earlier in the season that without Genki Urawa would already be in J2. At the time that seemed a little bit of an exaggeration but if it weren’t for his guts and goals then just think where the side would be…

Left Midfield: Ryang Yong-gi (Vegalta Sendai): Yet another great leader – can you have too many? – who plays with fantastic poise. His set-pieces provide a constant threat but he can do it in play too. Never flustered in possession and knows exactly when to release the ball and when to delay the pass.

Striker: Mike Havenaar (Ventforet Kofu): Other players perhaps have better all-round play, but his scoring record for a side at the bottom of the table is an incredible achievement. Has struck a wide variety of goals, and is about much more than his height. 

Subs: Hiroki Iikura (Yokohama F. Marinos), Naoya Kondo (Kashiwa Reysol), Wataru Hashimoto (Kashiwa Reysol); Shingo Hyodo (Yokohama F. Marinos), Hiroki Yamada (Jubilo Iwata); Josh Kennedy (Nagoya Grampus), Lee Keun-ho (Jubilo Iwata)

That’s my team, and I’m sure that you’ll have spotted many ridiculous inclusions and glaring omissions. Please feel free to point them out and tell me who you’d have in your side, either below the line or on Twitter @seankyaroru.

03
Dec
11

J.League title race goes to the wire

Today the 2011 J.League season comes to a close with three teams still in with a chance of becoming champions.

One of Kashiwa Reysol, Nagoya Grampus and Gamba Osaka will be celebrating this evening, and my preview explaining all the permutations can be found here.

15
Sep
11

Size isn’t important…

… it’s what you do with it that counts.

I would like to start this week’s column with a question: can anybody tell me, without looking it up, how tall Yasuhito Endo is? How about Yuichi Komano?

I doubt whether many of you knew either of those answers (Endo is 178cm and Komano just 172 – yes, I had to check) but I’m fairly certain that most people could tell me the height of Japan’s newest striker, to give him his full name, “194 senchi Mike Havenaar.”

I know that Havenaar is tall, you can tell that by looking at him. I am also aware of the fact that his height is fairly unusual in Japan and, in certain circumstances, would be a useful nugget of information to pass on.

Quite why television commentators feel the need to tell us nigh-on every time they mention his name is beyond me, though.

Fortunately I was at Saitama Stadium when he made his debut so I was spared during the North Korea game, but watching the Uzbekistan match on TV I lost count of the number of times “194 senchi Mike Havenaar” was referred to.

It reminded me a little of England’s Peter Crouch who we were frequently told “had good feet for a big man”. The assumption that being tall instantly means you should be rubbish with your feet is about as incorrect as the one which states that short players are not strong enough, or indeed that tall players are inherently better at heading.

Crouch dwarfs Havenaar, standing at 201cm, but he’s actually pretty rubbish in the air, and his poor timing and lack of control over his gangly frame mean he usually ends up fouling his marker or heading off target – if he makes contact with the ball at all.

Mike is not that bad, but of his 11 goals in the league prior to his national team call-up seven had been slotted home with his feet (primarily his left).

Of course, his aerial presence, like that of Nagoya Grampus’ Josh Kennedy, has also been a useful weapon for his club side in their fight to stay in J1, but he, like Kennedy, is about more than that – something that Grampus head coach Dragan Stojkovic referred to after Havenaar inspired Kofu to victory against his side earlier in the season.

“Mike played very well today, the best example for my strikers,” he said in the wake of the 3-1 defeat, in which Havenaar scored (with his left foot). “How one striker should move and fight. It’s very difficult to stop a striker who is always moving, not easy to mark.”

His technical abilities, as well as his stature, do provide an alternative option for Zac Japan, and after coming on in both of the recent qualifiers he did mix things up and cause problems for the opposing defences.

This was particularly useful considering the absence of Keisuke Honda, whose capacity to look after the ball and ease the pressure on the defence is so important for the national team, and was referred to ahead of the North Korea game by Shinji Okazaki.

“Honda has a great talent for holding the ball up and all of the players know that if we are in trouble we can pass to Keisuke; he is the safety ball,” the Stuttgart forward said. “If he is absent then we lose that option.”

Without that out-ball on offer Japan had to rethink slightly, and having struggled with their short, quick passing game the introduction of Havenaar from the bench did provide a more direct alternative.

The 24-year-old very nearly made a dream impact, striking a right-footed effort onto the bar shortly after coming on, and when I spoke to him after the game he seemed comfortable with the expectations that come with his height (although he doesn’t have to listen to the commentators while he’s playing, does he).

“The last five minutes we started to kick long balls to me but the plan was to work from the side and to get crosses in,” he explained. “I knew we were going to win but I hope that I could have scored.”

And if his performances this season are anything to go by he surely will. But not because he is 194cm, so please stop telling us.

19
Dec
10

The Year of the Dragan

Dragan Stojkovic was named as coach of the year at the 2010 J.League Awards and was more than humble in his acceptance speech. While he may not have conceded that he was the best in the division, everybody knew that he was key to Nagoya securing their first ever title though and I outlined why in Soccer Magazine this week.

Seigo Narazaki may have scooped the MVP award, Josh Kennedy might have scored the goals and Tulio may very well be credited with being the catalyst but, whether he accepts it or not, Dragan Stojkovic was unquestionably the driving force behind Nagoya Grampus’ success this season.

The Serb did his best to be bashful in his Coach of the Year acceptance speech at last week’s J.League Awards – first refusing to agree that he was actually the top coach in the division, and then palming the credit off onto his wife – but everybody in the room knew that he was just being modest.

While his soft side was on full display at the annual gala, it was his focused, determined, ‘mean streak’ that we were all more accustomed to seeing throughout the season, and it was this that will have motivated everyone at the club to pull out all the stops to achieve what he wanted.

Stojkovic is an intelligent, amiable guy who has an aura about him – when he talks you don’t only want to listen, you feel you have to listen. He fixes you with his eyes and you sense that every word has been carefully chosen and that you really should concentrate on taking it in.

Indeed, concentration is a key word when talking about Pixie, and at the start of the season he told me that his aim was to win the league. When I reminded him of this last week, he nodded and replied.

“We had our target. We worked very hard and concentrated on the job and the players understood our aim to become champions. Communication, work and sacrifice by all – for the team. I concentrate on my team and I don’t look at other teams. I concentrate on my team.”

Nagoya not only became champions but they did it by the biggest margin ever and sealed the title with three games to spare. This didn’t surprise their coach either.

“I had confidence we would finish it before the last game and I saw the players’ confidence and desire and belief to finish three or four games before the finish. We had a strong mentality and we believed. We didn’t care about Kashima or Gamba or Cerezo, we wanted to finish the job.

“What was important was that we didn’t make mistakes. If you lose one game it can be a problem to come back. We never lost twice in a row.”

Top scorer Josh Kennedy also paid reference to the fact that Grampus never lost back-to-back matches, and alluded to the focus that Pixie had instilled in the team.

“Everybody knows that we didn’t lose two games in a row and we played very consistent football. Every time we lost we bounced back and won the game and got back on the winning way.”

The Australian then gave a glowing assessment of his coach, and credited Stojkovic with bringing out the best of his ability.

“Under him I’ve played the best football of my career so I only have praise for him. We won the championship and I guess it’s only normal that he receives an award. He shouldn’t just receive it because we won though, I think he deserves it.”

It doesn’t look as if Nagoya’s concentration will be wavering anytime soon either, with Pixie focused on further success next season – perhaps even emulating that of his former coach and good friend, Arsene Wenger.

“He is a very important person to me and I love to talk with him about football and much more,” Pixie said of the Arsenal manager. “We want to play like Arsenal and, as I said three years ago, I want my team to play beautiful football. I don’t know about results but that is my target, to play beautiful football.”

He fired a warning shot to anyone who thinks that his side will start to favour aesthetics over achievements though, insisting that Grampus will be back next season with exactly the same target.

“Next year we will try very hard to win again. We will add two or three players, that is enough. Everything is possible and I believe in my team and myself.”

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.




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