Posts Tagged ‘Kumiyama


Teenage Kicks

I, like Whitney Houston, believe that children are the future. Therefore, we need to make sure they are coached properly and learn from the mistakes of their elders.

Last weekend I was playing football with some friends in Yoyogi Park and our group – which was made up of Japanese, English, French and German players – was joined by five or six junior high school kids who were having a kickabout nearby.

The numbers matched up so we made a straight game of it – gaijin and ‘oldies’ versus the Japanese youngsters – and it goes without saying that we decided to take it easy, with some of my team more than twice the age of our opponents.

That didn’t last for too long though, as they were outstanding. Their touch, awareness and composure was of a level far above that of players of 14 or 15 in England, and the match soon descended into a simple pattern: they would get the ball and pass it, then pass it again, then dribble round a couple of us and pass again, leaving us bemused and dizzy.

However, despite the fact that they were much, much better than us, the scores ended up fairly even as they seemed to have no real desire to put the ball in the net (well, between our bags).

At some point in their tricky attacks one of us would get lucky and block the ball before hoofing it away from our goal in the hope that a teammate could get to it before one of them and score.

While our approach was a little cruder and certainly not pleasing on the eye, it was rooted in a simple fact: to win a football match you need to score goals.

The complaint that Japanese players will not take a strike at goal unless they are almost in it is a common one, and ‘shoot!’ is certainly the word that I find myself shouting the most at J.League matches. While some will point to the recent 5-0 drubbing of Saudi Arabia as evidence against this, I would counter that a) the Saudi team were absolutely disgraceful and barely showed up, and b) all five of Japan’s goals came from inside the box.

The worrying thing for me, though, and something that was driven home by the game in Yoyogi, is the fact that the problem doesn’t look likely to be going away anytime soon.

Before last season’s Super Cup between Gamba and Kashima I watched the game between the J.League Under 18s and a Japan High School XI. In this match I noted that the players were exhibiting the same good and bad points as their seniors who took to the field after them. Likewise in the recent High School championships, where the majority of players displayed fantastic technical ability but very little spontaneity or flexibility.

Japanese players often seem to me to be almost pre-programmed, and just try the same things over and over and over again regardless of the end result. A full-back or winger, for example, having been told to get to the by-line and get a cross in will do this ten times out of ten, even if an opportunity were to present itself for him to cut inside and maybe take a shot. A goalkeeper will never spot a quick counter-attack and launch the ball upfield if he has been instructed to play it short to his full-backs.

Likewise, it is rare to see players take the current score into account and adjust their approach to the game accordingly. The final between Takigawa ni and Kumiyama provided a good example of this, with Takigawa almost forfeiting their victory by refusing to close the game off at 4-1. Instead of shutting up shop they continued to play the same attacking style and Kumiyama very nearly made them pay for it, scoring two late goals and making Takigawa work much harder than they needed to for the trophy.  

Every country has its own style of football; that is one of the things that makes it the most popular sport in the world. In order to compete at the very top, players and, perhaps more importantly, coaches, need to be willing to make adjustments though. The fact that the next generation of Japanese players are committing the same mistakes as the current crop suggests that this is not happening at the moment, and is something that needs to be addressed.


Commercial Breakdown

TV coverage of football in Japan, as I have touched upon before, has many problems. Cutting to commercials during a penalty-shoot-out was not something I had ever expected though.

The constant repetition of the same commercials at halftime and inbetween games I can make my peace with (I have grown up watching the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League after all). The irritating slogans that keep popping up to remind me who is sponsoring the show – as if it needed reinforcing – are also something that I have now come to expect of football coverage on TV in Japan. Cutting off in the middle, actually, just before the very end of, a penalty shoot-out for the ad-break, however, is absolutely ridiculous.

For anybody who missed it (although perhaps that’s the wrong turn of phrase, we all missed it), let me provide a brief recap.

Risshodai Shonan and Takigawa Ni had played out a tense semifinal to see who would join Kumiyama in the final of the 2011 All Japan High School tournament and, just as in Kumiyama’s semifinal with Ryutsu Keizaidai Kashiwa, the game had progressed to a penalty shoot-out.

Unlike the first match – which had produced four goals in regulation time and was concluded efficiently before Kumiyama had to take their fifth penalty – the second did not feature the sharpest of shooting. Takuo Ikeda and Taiki Katou had both missed open goals in the final five minutes for Risshodai and although they had gone someway to making up for those errors by converting their penalty kicks, neither side was able to end the match.

With the score still tied after the eighth round of spot kicks I was on the edge of my seat (well my bed), engrossed in the natural drama of the shoot-out.

And then it disappeared. First the pictures were submerged under an advert for a copy company (I mean, how many copy companies are there? Do they really need to advertise anyway?), and then, with the commentators still jabbering excitedly away, they cut entirely to a commercial break.

‘You’re kidding, right?’ I said (although I think I used slightly rougher language), before leaping up and frantically changing the channels. Nothing. The game hadn’t been shifted to a different channel, it was just gone. With, as it turned out, just two more kicks to go. What’s that, 60 seconds, perhaps?  All because the schedule dictated that the show must take a break at that point.

Now, I am often frustrated by television coverage of football in Japan (something I will undoubtedly discuss here at a later date). My most frequent complaint is that it all too often refuses to discuss controversial events – with penalty decisions, red cards and diving rarely, if ever, addressed. While this is annoying, to cut a live sporting event off right before its conclusion is just incredible. Why not delay the commercials until the game had ended?

Something similar did happen in England a couple of years ago, when Everton youngster Dan Gosling’s extra-time winner against Liverpool in an FA Cup replay was missed by the viewing public as the channel, ITV, cut to an advert for tic-tacs.

This was down to a technical fault rather than having been a conscious decision on the part of the programme-makers though – and it caused quite a stir, provoking over 1,000 complaints within 24 hours and drawing an apology from the executive chairman of the channel, who said:

“As a football fan myself I was glued to the match and was as disappointed as anyone to miss the goal. [The] glitch was inexcusable and we are awaiting the results of our technical inquiry so we can put in place stringent procedures to address this.”

Gosling’s goal, like the conclusion to the Takigawa-Risshodai shoot-out, was shown in replays once coverage continued, but this is just not the same as seeing it live, especially when you have become so gripped by the action.

I am sure nobody from NTV – who were airing the game – has declared the decision ‘inexcusable’, and it is disappointing that such an exciting day of football was spoiled by something that could so easily have been prevented.

I certainly learned a lesson from my semifinal experience and didn’t take any risks with the final; instead of sitting in front of the TV I headed to Kokuritsu where I enjoyed all eight goals live and uninterrupted.

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June 2023