Posts Tagged ‘Kensuke Nagai

30
Sep
11

Striking a different note

Since the J.League began it has almost always been the local players creating the chances, while foreign imports have taken the glory by banging in the goals. That looks like it is changing slowly…

In recent weeks I’ve noticed something strange has been going on in the J.League.

While everybody’s attention has been distracted by the sea of tricky little creative midfielders and energetic full-backs pouring overseas, a new type of Japanese player has been slowly coming into being back home.

A glance at the scoring charts confirmed that I wasn’t imagining things and my suspicions were true; the country is producing goalscorers.

Eight out of the top ten in J1 after Round 26 were Japanese, and all of them were into double-figures.

Alongside the usual suspects Ryoichi Maeda and Keiji Tamada were the experienced Yuzo Tashiro and Shingo Akamine, as well as four younger strikers Mike Havenaar, Tadanari Lee, Junya Tanaka and Yu Kobayashi.

Of course, there has always been the odd Japanese player in and around the top of the list, and the fact that half of those listed above are over 25 suggests that this is not a wholly new phenomenon.

However, having so many homegrown strikers leading the line for their clubs – and leading the way in the scoring charts – is certainly a recent development.

Indeed, as recently as April 2010 the reputation of Japanese strikers was far less flattering, and in an interview with the then-Kawasaki Frontale striker Chong Tese, a common perception of the nation’s front-men was aired

“Japanese forwards are not like forwards, they are like midfielders,” the North Korean international told me. “It looks like they don’t want to score goals.

“The most important thing for a forward is to be an egoist,” he continued. “If you have five opportunities and only get one goal that is ok. The other four times everyone expresses their disappointment with you but the forward only needs to get the one goal.”

And thanks, I believe, to two interconnected reasons it looks like this way of thinking is finally being embraced on a wider scale by the nation’s goal-getters.

The first contributing factor is the wonderful desire and ability of the Japanese to fine-tune and perfect things.

Japanese teams were producing plenty of Captain Tsubasa-inspired assist merchants, but the absence of anybody to put the chances away meant there was an aspect to be worked at and tweaked.

This goal was undoubtedly assisted as the image of ‘the striker’ started to shift, with the influence of foreign players, both positive and negative, also aiding the process.

The likes of Leo Messi and David Villa have proven that you don’t need to be 180cm and 80kg to be a centre-forward so more Japanese players, who ordinarily are neither of these things, are starting to be given chances and, more importantly, to believe they can play up-front.  

Initially J.League clubs assumed they needed a Brazilian to spearhead the attack but as many of these imports turned out to be well below par – and, of course, the money that attracted them moved to the Middle East – chances have started to be handed to homegrown talent instead.

Playing alongside the better foreign players to come to these shores and taking the positives from their styles and mental approaches has also benefited this generation of players, so too the increasing visibility of international leagues.  

Yuji Ono – who along with Kensuke Nagai, Genki Omae and Hidetaka Kanazono is another of the new breed of aggressive, goal-hungry strikers – made this clear when I interviewed him at the start of the season.

“The reason that so many young players like myself are playing now,” he explained, “is because, unlike before, we can watch foreign football on TV.”

It is now possible to study the technique of the best forwards in the world and to fashion your own style from their best bits. Tadanari Lee is another who has developed in this way, listing Raul, Filippo Inzaghi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Dennis Bergkamp as the players he tries to learn from.

This diligent approach has undoubtedly helped the Japanese striker out of its shell, but for the species to continue its evolution it may soon be time to set the DVDs aside.

Centre-forward is the position which most demands the ability to be unpredictable and spontaneous. Having proven that they have the instincts, then, it is now time for the home-grown No. 9s to start trusting in them.

04
Mar
11

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.

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228004857.htm

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228004904.htm

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/T110228003025.htm

22
Dec
10

The Back Post – Reds hope to close out blue period

When I first visited Japan, Urawa Red Diamonds were one of the top teams in the J.League. Things haven’t been so smooth over the past few seasons though, and the side has just implemented it’s latest change of manager.

As Volke Finke makes way for former Reds’ player Željko Petrović, I considered the team’s recent plight and whether or not the Montenegrin will be able to return them to the top of the table for my column in the Daily Yomiuri, which you can read here.

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.

03
Dec
10

Copa load of this…

With Japan travelling to Argentina next year as special invitees to the Copa America I decided to focus a little on the competition for my Weekly Soccer Magazine column last week. Many thanks to Sebastian Garcia (www.mundoalbiceleste.com) for his assistance with the article.

The draw for the 2011 Copa America was made on November 11th and Japan’s inclusion has raised some eyebrows – with certain parties suggesting that the Samurai Blue’s presence devalues the competition and turns it into more of an exhibition. The team is sure to benefit greatly from the experience though, and it will be interesting to see what kind of squad Alberto Zaccheroni decides to take with him to Argentina.

Japan will come up against Colombia, Bolivia and, most excitingly, Argentina in Group A and, in order to find out a little more about what the team can expect, I sat down with Sebastian Garcia, an Argentine football journalist and editor of mundoalbiceleste.com, and picked his brains.

Colombia, the 2001 Copa America champions, are Japan’s first opponents and the defence will have to be wary of two players in particular. Striker Radamel Falcao Garcia currently plays for Portuguese side FC Porto and, as a graduate of the River Plate youth team, will be a popular player around the country during the tournament.

Possibly starting alongside him, although probably slightly further back, will be Racing Club’s no. 10 Giovanni Moreno. Moreno is a free-kick specialist who Seba informs me looks slow but is almost impossible to catch once he gets going.

This match will take place in Jujuy, which is nicknamed the ‘little silver cup’. Jujuy is famous for its salt-fields and is the hometown of former Argentina international Ariel Ortega. The venue, Estadio 23 de Agosto, is home to Gimnasia y Esgrima de Jujuy – who wear the same colours as the Argentina national team – and is also where Japan will play their next match against Bolivia.

Bolivia experienced a difficult World Cup qualifying campaign, finishing second to bottom with just Peru below them. Despite this they will have a slight home-field advantage, with Jujuy actually closer to Bolivia (290km) than it is to Buenos Aires (1,525km).  The Bolivians will also be more used to the altitude, although, at 1,259 metres it is not quite as severe as La Paz. Their main threat will be Marcelo Moreno Martins, their half-Brazilian striker who plays for Shakhtar Donetsk.

Finally, hopefully with 6 points already in the bag, Japan will head south to Cordoba where they will face Argentina for top spot in the group!

Cordoba is situated exactly in the middle of Argentina and is the hometown of former Shimizu S-Pulse coach Ossie Ardiles and 1978 World Cup top scorer Mario Kempes – after whom the city’s Copa America venue is named.

Argentina are tied with Uruguay for the most Copa America titles (14), although they haven’t triumphed since 1993 – the last major trophy they won.

Sergio Batista – who was caretaker boss for the 1-0 defeat in Saitama in October and is now in permanent charge – played in Japan for Tosu Futures in the 1995/96 season, and, like Zaccheroni, will still be in the relatively early stages of forming his team.

As such, while Argentina is sure to be full of household names, it is likely that there may be one or two new faces in action come July. Seba’s one-to-watch is Palermo’s Javier Pastore, who is from Cordoba and so sure to receive a warm reception from the home fans.

The Copa America falls in the off-season for the European leagues so most of Japan’s big names will probably be able to travel, and the J.League’s finest will also be available with the division taking a break for the tournament.

Having been in Guangzhou for the past month watching Takashi Sekizuka’s U21 team at the Asian Games, I would personally like to see a couple of those players given a chance too though – particularly captain Kazuya Yamamura and, of course, the much-feted Kensuke Nagai.

The on-field antics sure to be taking place in South America will be a million miles away from the University leagues back in Japan, and the opportunity to learn more about the ‘nasty’ side of the game would aid their development greatly.

Such first-hand experience would also be vital for these players when bearing in mind that that many of them will be hoping to be involved in the next World Cup in Brazil just three years later.




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… 14 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

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