Posts Tagged ‘Nabisco Cup

12
Nov
11

Okashi(i)

In my opinion, the Nabisco is very much a cup half empty…

The Japanese word for snacks, okashi, is strikingly similar to the word for strange, okashii. With that in mind it is particularly fitting that the J.League Cup – a pretty bizarre competition – is sponsored by the confectionary company Nabisco.

This year’s final was contested by two teams who have been having far from their best seasons – as indeed it invariably is.

The three previous showpieces – which admittedly are great occasions and generate a terrific atmosphere – have seen Jubilo Iwata, FC Tokyo and Oita Trinita emerge triumphant.

None of those sides were seriously challenging on any other fronts at the time, and for the latter two the tournament actually appeared to be something of a curse as they suffered relegation to J2 in the season following their victories.

While the teams that are in with a chance of winning the league or even the Emperor’s Cup – which carries the huge, and fitting, bonus of an ACL spot – focus on frying their bigger fish, the also-rans are left to fight over the crumbs.

Kashima Antlers will have been delighted to get one over their old rivals and pick up yet another trophy at Reds’ expense, but they would surely rather have been battling it out for the league title or to become the Kings of Asia.

Indeed, this was the first time that Oswaldo Oliveira had won the Nabisco Cup – the only domestic trophy he hadn’t collected in his time at the club – and while he will no doubt be happy to have collected the full set, he must also be feeling a little disheartened that Antlers are now having to settle for the smaller trinkets.

He even hinted at as much after the final, telling reporters in the press conference that, “because we are no longer in a realistic position to win the league we had a responsibility to win a title and so perhaps I focused on this competition a little more than I usually would.”

It could be argued that Reds deserved to win the championship more than Antlers, though.

Yes, they were largely outplayed in the final and the game was effectively ended as a spectacle with the over-enthusiastic refereeing of Mr. Tojo (Naoki’s first caution was a little harsh – although he, admittedly, knew he had received it and was stupid to fly in for the second tackle – while Aoki’s second yellow card was truly bizarre), but they had worked three times as hard as their opponents to get to the final.

Kashima had played just two matches prior to the clash at Kokuritsu, while Urawa contested six – all of which they won.

Teams with commitments in continental competition usually have their workload lightened, and this year the difference was more extreme because of the rearranged schedule after the earthquake but such a large disparity is very odd.

There has been talk of including J2 in the tournament from next season and I personally think that would be a great idea and could really inject some life into the competition.

Many factors – sponsors’ interests and club’s budgets chief among them – need to be taken into account but as a simple suggestion, my version of the League Cup would look something like this.

Eight groups of four teams, four consisting of three from J2 and one from J1, four with two from each division. Each team would play three matches and the winner of each group plus the best two runners up would progress to the next round.

Here they would be joined by the previous season’s top four from J1 and the reigning Emperor’s Cup and Nabisco Cup champions. (If the cup winners also finished in the top four then 5th and 6th from J1 would take their byes. If a J2 team won either or both cups then only 18 or 19 second division sides would be in the group stage with 14 or 13 from J1).

From that point on it would be a simple one-legged knockout competition from an unseeded draw.

The J.League is keen to expand and improve the credibility of its second division, and this format would certainly provide J2 sides with more exposure, as well as opportunities to test themselves against stronger opponents.

There would, admittedly, still be a slight discrepancy in the number of games teams play, but it would make for a slightly more even playing field, and the tournament could truly be considered as the “J.League Cup” – a tournament worth winning.

16
Jun
11

Ono confident of success for Marinos

Last week I visited Yokohama F. Marinos training ground and interviewed their young striker Yuji Ono.

Despite being just 18 he has his head very much screwed on and has high hopes for this season and beyond.

19
Mar
11

The Back Post – Football placed firmly in perspective

After the tragic events that took place in the Tohoku region of Japan last week, football has been placed very much in perspective.

The J.League and JFA have done well to bear this in mind, and I discussed their reactions in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami here.

31
Dec
10

Where’s the Endo the road?

I wanted to write a season review and look ahead to the next one for my last Soccer Magazine column of 2010. The congested structure of the Japanese football season made this a little tricky though…

As I sat on the plane to England for my hard-earned Christmas holiday I began to write this week’s column. Seeing as the 2010 season has almost concluded and the New Year is fast approaching, a reflection on the past season and look forward to the next initially seemed like a good idea.

Then I stumbled upon a problem. Just when did the last season begin, when would it finish and when exactly would the new one begin? I began to go through my notes and searched for a period in the last year-and-a-half when there hadn’t been any Japanese football taking place.

It turned out there hadn’t been one, and there wasn’t going to be for some time to come.

To demonstrate the intensity of the schedule, put yourself into the shoes of Endo Yasuhito for a moment.

The 2009 J.League season started in March and officially came to an end with a 2-0 victory over JEF last December, but there was still the Emperor’s Cup which didn’t conclude until New Year’s Day 2010.

A couple of weeks after winning that he was training with the national team in preparation for the East Asian Championship and just 10 days after China secured victory at Kokuritsu he was back in action for Gamba, playing against Suwon in Korea in the ACL.

The 2010 J.League season was then underway, but, mercifully, after just 12 rounds of matches there was a break. Oh, not for Yatto, as this ‘break’ was for the World Cup and he was off to South Africa (via Switzerland and Austria).

After playing every minute for Okada san at the tournament there was still no time to put his feet up as J.League games were back on and his team needed him after a fairly miserable showing in the first part of the season. 

He helped to turn things around for Nishino san, got his regular spot in the J.League Best Eleven and can finally look forward to…the Emperor’s Cup. Again?! Oh well, just three more matches at the most and then he can take some time off.

But wait! The Asian Cup! 

OK, if he can just put it in in Qatar and then surely he can take it easy for a little while?

Oh no, hang on, then the 2011 ACL and J.League season will be getting underway, then there’s another ‘break’ – this time for the Copa America – the end of the J.League, probably the Emperor’s Cup (there’s always the Emperor’s Cup – if only he had Tulio’s timing when it came to injuries)…it never seems to end – and potentially won’t until January 2012, almost three years after this sequence began.

This, of course, is an extreme case but it demonstrates wonderfully the problems that the current fixture list makes possible for the best Japanese players.

Also, while only a small minority of players take part in this whole schedule, the J.League as a whole is not helped by all of these mini-breaks which disrupt the flow of the season and detract from the momentum of the title chase and relegation battle.

The only answer, in my opinion, has to be a shift to the European August – May season.

This would not interfere with Japan’s major bi-annual tournaments (the Asian Cup – interestingly, with the 2022 World Cup in mind – is only being held in January this time because of the intensity of Qatar’s summer) and commitments such as the East Asian Championship could always be used to provide University or fringe players with vital national team experience.

The Nabisco Cup could cease it’s group format and become a simple knockout competition – which would make it easier for it and the Emperor’s Cup to run within the regular season – and it would also mean that clubs could easier deal with the increasingly frequent loss of their best players to the European leagues, with their departures coming in the Japanese off-season, rather than in the very middle.

Bringing about such changes would surely provide J.League players with more recuperation time and, most importantly, give the league the chance to run consistently, from start to finish with no breaks – which can only be a good thing for all concerned.

01
Dec
10

The best is yet to come

Although they dramatically lost to Jubilo Iwata in the Nabisco Cup Final, Sanfrecce Hiroshima are without doubt one of the most vibrant and enjoyable teams to watch in the J.League. I discussed the reasons for this and what the future may hold for the club in my recent column in Weekly Soccer Magazine. 

Sanfrecce Hiroshima may have suffered heartbreak in last month’s Nabisco Cup Final, but their progress since returning to the top-flight of Japanese football should not be underestimated.

As well as making it to National Stadium for their epic clash with Jubilo Iwata, the Purple Archers have also made their first appearance in the Asian Champions League – qualifying immediately after returning to the top-tier.

Consistency has been the key to this success, with coach Mihailo Petrovic just concluding his fifth year in charge of the club. The Serbian has been given plenty of time to construct his own team, and he has done this intelligently, enabling his players to build an incredibly strong relationship.

It is no surprise that a squad comprising of ten academy graduates have such a close understanding out on the pitch, and the club’s philosophy is unlikely to change in the near future after their youth team were victorious in the Prince Takamado Cup in October.

As well as not being afraid of giving the club’s youngsters opportunities, Petrovic has been intelligent with the players brought in to add to the mix, ensuring that they not only have the relevant qualities to blend with their teammates, but also are able to assist in their education.

The impressive acclimatisation by Sanfrecce is not entirely unique. In the ten years since movement between J1 and J2 was made possible, twenty three teams have been promoted to the top-flight, with just four of them dropping straight back down the next season (although it looks as if Shonan Bellmare will be making it five from twenty six fairly soon).

What is especially refreshing about the achievements of Sanfrecce – and, this year, Cerezo Osaka – though is the fact that they have not abandoned the styles that initially earned them seats at the top table.

Sanfrecce scored 99 goals in the season that led to their promotion back to the top-flight – while Cerezo went one better, securing a century of strikes last year – and both sides still adopt an enthusiastic and adventurous approach in J1.

It could be argued that it is actually these aggressive styles which have caused the two sides to fall away in the league in the latter part of the season though, preventing even more sensational success.

Sanfrecce managed to keep pace for the first three-quarters of last season but when it came to the final straight the players began to tire, with the size of their squad not quite big enough to fully compete with the biggest teams in J1.

After they experienced that almighty collapse at Todoroki at this stage last season – when Frontale defeated them 7-0 and all but ended their title chances – Croatian wide-man Mihael Mikic referred to the demands placed on such a small squad.

“The season is very difficult; the whole team is always running. It’s a non-stop season – you start with training in January and now it’s November. One year non-stop and the summer in Japan is very, very difficult. When it’s the end of the season we don’t have many players in the squad as we always play the same guys and that is very difficult.”

“We are a team who cannot stop and just say, ‘OK, 1-0 or 2-0.’ We go, go, go! Every game we play football. Against Kawasaki or Kashima, Omiya, Oita, we always play the same. At 5-0 Hisato (Sato) said, “Go, we go!”, and I said, “Hisa, easy!” and he says “No, we go!

Such an enthusiastic – if slightly naive – approach was also their undoing against Jubilo. Having been just one minute away from their first piece of silverware when Ryoichi Maeda scored his first goal, the team capitulated in extra time, conceding a further three goals and managing just one of their own in reply.

While they have come up just short again this year – with the demands of the ACL and Nabisco run taking their toll – the team do have time on their side, and if Petrovic can keep the bulk of the squad together it would be very surprising if they are not celebrating a victory of their own very soon.

27
Oct
10

The Back Post – Sanfrecce’s Seeds of Success

Sanfrecce Hiroshima have had a great couple of years since they returned to the top-flight of Japanese football in 2009.

My latest column for the Daily Yomiuri focuses on some of the reasons behind their success and can be found here




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