Posts Tagged ‘Kazu


For the game? For the world?

Barcelona provided some sumptuous entertainment on the way to claiming the Club World Cup title, and Kashiwa Reysol also benefited from the tournament. The real winners were Fifa though…

At the start of the season I wrote in this column that I was pleased to see Kashiwa Reysol back in J1, ending with the line, “One thing’s for certain; with Kashiwa back in the mix 2011 will be kept interesting. The future’s bright.”

Little did I know back then just how brightly the Sun Kings would shine. As well as becoming the first ever side to claim back-to-back J2 and J1 championships they also earned the rare opportunity to take part in the Club World Cup – with their momentum taking them all the way to an exciting semi-final against Santos.

Speaking after their qualifying victory against Auckland City, captain Hidekazu Otani – one of the unsung heroes of the team – epitomised the spirit behind Reysol’s success.

“It’s not just about participating, but the whole team feels that we want to leave a good result,” he said.

“The experience of every single match in this competition is valuable to all the players and the team.”

His coach Nelsinho agreed, reflecting on the growth of his side after they secured their place in the quarter-finals against Monterrey.

“My players now have more confidence, they are more mature. We have won J2 and, by taking it step by step J1 as well. By winning this game, we have more experience”

I have absolutely no doubt about that but, while the competition does provide a fantastic experience for clubs such as Reysol, I have to admit that I see it as little more than a charade to make FIFA even more money.

With the greatest respect to the likes of Auckland City – who, let’s not forget, are an amateur club – they don’t represent anything like the best teams in the world, and to suggest anything otherwise hints at either ignorance, stupidity or lies (none of which are particularly alien to the world’s governing body, of course).

Myself and a fellow English journalist (Ben Mabley of Football Japan) discussed the pros (mainly Ben) and cons (mainly me) of the tournament ahead of the kick-off, and while I agreed that, in principal, it was a good idea, in practice it just doesn’t work.

The concept of a tournament to determine the true ‘Best Club in the World’ is great on paper, but economic factors mean that each of the continental champions comes into the competition on a hugely different footing.

Regardless of whether they won the competition or not, we all know that Barcelona are the best team out there, and aside from yet another El Clasico against Real Madrid we’re hard pushed for someone to really challenge them for that crown.

The closest side from outside of Europe to being able to do that is probably Copa Libertadores champions Santos.

In his welcome address in the official programme for the Club World Cup (¥3,000 each – ‘For the game. For the World’), Kazu touched upon that fact – while at the same time performing perhaps the biggest name-drop I have ever seen.

“During a conversation with Pele the other day,” Kazu began, “he commented that, “People continually ask me about a game between Santos FC and FC Barcelona, but who said they will be in the final?””

Kazu then continued, “You could say there is a gulf in quality between the continents, but the gap has been narrowing in recent years. The will to win is universal and there is an equal chance for every team.”

Ben made a similar point, and while Reysol’s efforts against Santos were impressive I’m still not convinced.

Everybody in the build-up to the competition wanted to see the Catalans (and Messi) square off against the Brazilians (and Neymar) in the final, so what would have made more sense (but less money) would have been to skip straight to a game between those two sides – as was the case until the Intercontinental Cup came to an end in 2004.

 I’m all for trying to improve the overall level of the game around the world, but rather than just giving the African, American, Asian and Oceanian champions the chance to swap shirts with a celebrity player, FIFA could perhaps try and focus its efforts on distributing and regulating the obscene amounts of money in the game a bit better in order to create a more even playing field.


The Mixed Zone with…Tadanari Lee

For my most recent Mixed Zone with… I travelled to Hiroshima to meet Tadanari Lee.

You can read my interview with the Sanfrecce and Japan striker here.


Tochigi top of the tree

I didn’t plan my trip properly but was very impressed on my visit to Tochigi; a club that seems to have a much greater sense of direction than I do…


My old P.E. teacher always used to say, “Fail to prepare and prepare to fail”, and it turns out I really should have listened more in school. 

Last Sunday morning I was up bright and early to go and check out the surprise early leaders of J2, Tochigi SC.

Having initially intended to go to the game with a friend (who cancelled the night before) I hadn’t done anything in the way of planning, and set off half-asleep for Tochigi station.

The more eagle-eyed among you will have noticed my error: Tochigi, of course, play nowhere near Tochigi station, they actually play close to (well, a fairly substantial bus journey from) Utsunomiya station.

Anyhow, while sleep-walking my way to Shinnakano I was blissfully unaware of this. As I got closer to my destination I did start to wonder why there weren’t many people on the train (except for an Indonesian guy who chatted me up and asked for my number on the way to Itakuratoyodaimae), but seeing as it was still a good few hours before kick-off I wasn’t too worried.

My first attempts to research where the team played only came after I’d got off at Tochigi, and a quick check online and a plea on twitter soon had me on my way.

Thankfully, despite my error, I still made it to the wonderful Tochigi Green Stadium before kick-off, and was even honoured with a personal escort to the press entrance (who radio-ed through that there was a “gaijin free-writer” trying to get in. I nearly joked that I was actually a gaikokujin but didn’t know how long I’d have to be walking with him so resisted the urge).

Although I’d aimed to arrive an hour-and-a-half earlier I still had a little time to soak up the atmosphere, and enjoyed a bit of banter with the fans behind the goal in the home end before bumping into (a hot and sweaty) Kazu as he came off after the warm-up.

I also had a chat with my friend from Yokohama FC who said he was there because the team hadn’t been doing so well lately and that he might be needed after the game to apologise to and appease the fans if they lost again.

Thankfully there were no major problems, although within seconds of me taking my seat things didn’t look too promising for him, as young centre-back Park Tae-hong headed a cross from the right-wing past a stranded Kentaro Seki and into his own net.  

The goalkeeper at the other end, Hiroyuki Takeda, had a much better start to the afternoon, and reacted well on several occasions to keep the home side in front.

The last time I had seen Tochigi in action was back in 2009 when they were in a completely different situation and were rooted to the bottom of J2. I was impressed with the energy and positive play of the rejuvenated side, with them looking to break as soon as they were in possession. Their enthusiasm to get forward did mean that decisions were often rushed though, and there was a fairly high turnover of possession.

On occasion it would have made sense for them to just keep the ball and slow down the pace a little, although for the neutral such a gung-ho approach made for a far more exciting game.

Their vulnerability on the counter-attack was eventually taken advantage of when Yokohama sub Yosuke Nozaki won the away side a penalty after a great run down the left wing shortly after coming on at half-time.

The injection of his creativity certainly livened up a fairly ordinary Yokohama side, but Tochigi continued to buzz around the pitch and their winner, a Hirofumi Watanabe header in the 74th minute, was richly deserved.

It is still very early in the season and as injuries come into play and teams become familiar with Tochigi’s style they will certainly have to improve to make a real push for J1.

If they can maintain this level of performance they do have the potential to mount a serious challenge though, and they certainly have a clear idea of where they are aiming for. Which is a lot more than can be said for me.


The Back Post – Charity begins at home

Speaking before last week’s charity match in Osaka, Mitsuo Ogasawara described the scenes that greeted him and his family when they travelled to Tohoku in the days after the tsunami.

These comments and how he thinks football can continue to help the region formed the basis of this month’s Back Post, for The Daily Yomiuri.


Japan as One

Before travelling down to Osaka for the Japan v. J.League ‘Team as One’ match at the start of the week, I wrote about the importance of the game for Weekly Soccer Magazine.

Nagai Stadium is certain to be an emotional place on Tuesday night.

While I was very disappointed with New Zealand’s decision to back out of their scheduled game with the Samurai Blue, I think that it is crucial this match goes ahead and feel that the time is right for Japan to come together to not only remember all of the victims of the tragic events of the past few weeks, but also to look forward.

Indeed, if New Zealand had honoured their commitment they would have found themselves in a no-win situation. Most likely they would have come up against a hugely fired-up Samurai Blue team who would have been more determined than ever to put in a performance and secure a good result in front of their own fans. Had the Kiwis been able to brave this onslaught and been victorious themselves though, it would have been hugely dispiriting for their hosts.

Now, with the match set to be contested between a full strength national team and a selection of the biggest stars currently playing in the J.League it is sure to be stirring occasion for everybody packed inside the ground and the many millions watching at home – particularly when Kimigayo strikes up.

Such was the desire to be involved in the match and to help out in any way possible, J.League chairman Kazumi Ohigashi revealed that he had to turn down several requests from players to be included in the ‘Team as One’ squad.

Speaking at JFA house when announcing the selection Ohigashi said, “Many players wanted to join but we only had room for 20 members so I was very sorry that I had to refuse some players.”

With competition so fierce it is little surprise that the chosen few were so eager to accept their call-ups, with everybody desperate to do what little they can to help out in the current circumstances.

Ohigashi confirmed this keenness – including on the parts of players from Kashima Antlers and Vegalta Sendai, two of the most affected areas:

“All the players said yes to our offer as soon as possible. Sendai and Kashima experienced a lot of damage but their players said ‘ok, and thank you for the offer’.”

This enthusiasm to be a part of the event was shared by supporters, with tickets at the 50,000 capacity venue selling out in under 2 hours – an incredible feat.
The chairman’s rationale for the evening, which will be shared by players, supporters and media alike, is simple:

“This match I want to be brave and positive for the victims,” he said.

One man who is certain to embody this spirit is Kazu, who Ohigashi revealed was the first man to confirm his availability for the match.

Employing Kazu’s star status was a smart move on the part of the J.League, and the 44-year-old – who was an unannounced presence at the ‘Team as One’ press conference – sparked a flurry of activity upon arrival as photographers scurried around to get the perfect shot. 

He expressed relief at being given an opportunity to do something to aid the relief efforts, however small, having experienced a similar helplessness to most of the population as the tragic events unfolded. 

“After the earthquake I was thinking ‘what can I do to help?'” Kazu said. “This was a very difficult question for me. I wanted to do something to improve the situation through football, and so when I got the offer to join this charity match I was delighted to have the opportunity to cooperate with the Japanese soccer world.”

When asked if he had a message for those affected most deeply by the tragedy Kazu replied.

“This is a very difficult and very serious situation. Maybe I can try to imagine how they feel but I think their real situation is beyond that – it is unvbelievable.”

And this is something that everybody involved should bear in mind. Real people have experienced, and are still experiencing, real suffering and this game is merely a diversion to raise much-needed funds and to provide some brief respite from the current difficulties. It does not mark the end of the situation but might just provide a point from which the country can start to pick up the pieces and begin to look to the future.


Coming together to give strength

The Japanese national team took on a J.League ‘Team as One’ on Tuesday, to raise money for the relief efforts in the wake of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Here’s my preview for the match, including comments from Yuki Abe, Eiji Kawashima and Kazu.


J.League ‘Team as One’ squad announced

On Tuesday the J.League called a press conference to announce its ”Team as One’ squad to face the national team next week.

The full squad and comments from J.League legend Kazu can be found here.


J.League 2011 Season Preview

On Saturday the 2011 J.League season kicks off so this week I provided a preview for The Daily Yomiuri, which can be found by following the links below.

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

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March 2023