Posts Tagged ‘Keigo Higashi

12
Oct
11

Omiya, Oh My

Just one home win in the league all season has left Omiya in the relegation scrap as per-usual. Very few of their players have shone this season but the majority of the blame lies with their coach…

Back in February I was asked to provide this magazine with my predictions for the 2011 J.League season. We are not quite at the end of the campaign but I decided to revisit them recently and although some are still possible (Avispa, Ventforet, Montedio to get relegated; Grampus to win the league) others were not so successful.

The most glaring mistake was my tip for top-scorer (Antlers’ Carlao (19 goals) – oops), but I was also misguided in my suggestion that Omiya Ardija would be the dark horse.

In the six seasons since Ardija joined J1 they have always ended up in the bottom half, only once finishing more than six points above the relegation zone.

They looked to have settled last year though, and having kept hold of Rafael and also made some smart signings in Kim Young-gwon, Kota Ueda and Keigo Higashi it seemed as if they were in a position to start pushing on and establishing themselves as a steady top-flight team.

And, in a way, they have.

Their victory over Kashiwa Reysol in Round 27 meant they had the joint second-best away record in the division, taking 22 points from their games on the road and losing just four times.

Things have not gone quite so well at home, however. In fact, they have the worst record of any club in front of their own fans, winning just once at NACK5 in the league all season.

This discrepancy was pointed out to striker Rafael after his brace had secured their latest away victory in Kashiwa, and he was at a loss to account for the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the side.

“It’s difficult to explain,” the Brazilian said. “I think a lot of teams play better away this season. We play to win away and at home but we have been playing badly at home, I don’t know why.”

I have my theory, and it rests with the coach Jun Suzuki.

While not as depressing a tactician as Toshiya Miura, Suzuki is far from ambitious and seemingly sends his team out not with the aim of winning games, but of not losing them.

This is a fairly standard tactic used by many coaches for away games, when the onus is usually on the home side to attack and go for the win. As players grow tired and the pressure mounts there is always the opportunity to capitalise on a mistake or sneak one on the counter-attack – something Omiya have perfected this season.

At home, though, teams usually take control a little more, and are expected to seize the initiative. Unfortunately, instead of trusting in their talented attacking players and throwing a little caution to the wind Omiya adopt the same stance on their own patch as they do on their travels.

Suzuki’s refusal to start Naoki Ishihara sums up this conservative approach, and after Omiya’s maiden home win against Jubilo Iwata he attempted to justify the tactic as follows.

“I want to use him from the start but we have no other supersub. I tried to use [Rodrigo] Pimpao from the second half but he is not that type of player.”

So, essentially, it seems that Ishihara doesn’t start because he’s good, whereas a less adaptable player, Pimpao, gets a starting shirt because he’s a crap sub. Hmmm…

Quite why they can’t all be incorporated into the starting line-up isn’t clear.

Rafael and Ishihara would form a formidable front two, and with Keigo Higashi on the right and one of Pimpao or Lee Chun-soo on the left the side would have more than enough attacking potential to secure the ten or so wins needed to avoid relegation.

As the likes of Reysol, Sanfrecce and Cerezo have demonstrated, such a gung-ho approach does lead to a fair few defeats, but it also enables teams to turn enough draws into victories to keep them well away from the drop-zone.

Indeed, Reysol, who are challenging at the other end of the table, have not drawn at home all season; Omiya have tied seven times.

Something that is always worth bearing in mind is the fact that you get more points by winning one game and losing the next than you do for drawing both.

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.

10
Dec
10

Future looks bright for Japanese football

Last month I saw a great deal of the Japan U21s and the Nadeshiko in action at the Asian Games in Guangzhou – where both picked up gold. The success of the two sides, in particular Takashi Sekizuka’s Olympic team, consequently provided the topic of discussion for my Soccer Magazine column this week.

As I mentioned briefly in last week’s column, I spent most of November in China covering the men’s and women’s football tournaments at the Asian Games in Guangzhou. I would like to congratulate both the U21s and Nadeshiko on winning the country’s first ever gold medals in the competition; the future looks very bright for Japanese football.

Takashi Sekizuka’s Olympic team was particularly impressive and, while developing a winning mentality at such a young age is key, it was not just their ultimate success that pleased me, but more so the way that they went about it.

I was in Tianhe Stadium for their first match against China, and it would have been very easy for the players to have buckled under the pressure in such a hostile atmosphere. The team remained calm and focused though, settling quickly and more than matching the physicality of their opponents.

Having established an early foothold in the game, they went on to comfortably defeat the hosts 3-0, thanks largely to the directness of their sharp, incisive attacks.

Instrumental in this display were captain Kazuya Yamamura and striker Kensuke Nagai.

Yamamura controlled the midfield effortlessly, commanding respect in the midst of the action and maintaining an astonishing level of composure when in possession for one so inexperienced.

Nagai, meanwhile, had me very excited indeed. The soon-to-be-ex Fukuoka University player displayed many of the traits that are all too often lacking in Japanese forwards, most noticeably that he is always trying to score. Whenever he had the ball he would look to commit defenders and create a scoring chance, and his attitude was epitomised in his comments after the victory over China.

Despite having every reason to be more than content with his performance and the plaudits it had evoked, he instead fired a warning to the rest of the competition.

“I am happy to have scored one and set one up today but I feel I can do more. I want to score in the next game as well.”

This he did, claiming the opener against Malaysia and eventually going on to become the top-scorer in the competition, with five goals in his six games.

It was nice to see a proper striker leading the line with such gusto, and the rest of the team did not shirk their responsibilities either with Japan’s 17 goals coming from an astonishing 10 different scorers.

This included a couple from defenders – including Yuki Saneto’s decider in the tense final with an impressive UAE side.

Saneto’s goal was not only remarkable for being his first ever for the national team but it also bore a strange similarity to that converted by Azusa Iwashimizu in the women’s gold medal match a few days earlier.

Both players wore the number 2 shirts, the ball entered the same side of the same goal at the same end of the ground for both players, with Iwashimizu scoring in the 73rd minute, while Saneto’s came just a minute later!

There was a vibrancy to the U21s as a whole, and the likes of Ryohei Yamazaki, Kota Mizunuma, Keigo Higashi and Hotaru Yamaguchi – all of whom also got on the scoresheet at some point – were industrious, enthusiastic and positive throughout.

As well as clicking on the attack, the defences of both Japanese teams were solid and the women didn’t concede at all, while the men only let in one goal in the competition.

In addition to performing well between the sticks, goalkeeper Shunsuke Ando also proved to be a breath of fresh air in the mixed zone, offering up honest opinions (such as stating his wish to play South Korea in the final, and declaring that Japan would beat them if they did), and allowing volunteers to pose with his hard-earned gold medal after the final match!

Discipline was important to the team’s triumph, but so too was spontaneity, and I sincerely hope that Zaccheroni – who was a smiling presence pitchside as the team received their medals – allows the players that do graduate to the top team to retain the open and relaxed attitudes that were on display in Guangzhou as they progress up the ranks.




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

  • 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… 15 hours ago
  • RT @inuunited: 403010101029290 https://t.co/Zs7VUlZl56 1 day ago
  • RT @FichotVincent: Japanese lawyer selling manual on how to legally alienate a child from the other parent. What is the ruling party doing… 2 days ago

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