Football (Japan) Lost In Translation . . . Relaunched 2012!
Japan Football: Zaccheroni, Samurai Blue, and general J chatter
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The Best Rivalries
ForeverInOurShadow.jpg On June 17, 2009, Japan played Australia away in the second leg of the World Cup Final Qualifying round. The Samurai Blue had already drawn at home against the Asian newcomers in the first leg, and by the time the final whistle blew in Melbourne, Japan supporters were not only treated to a 1-2 loss but were also forced to endure the cut from an opening salvo by Socceroos supporters -- "Nippon: Forever in Our Shadow".

It was strange at the time to witness this as a Japan fan. We had by now gotten accustomed to angry booing and anti-Japan banners from neighbors in China and Korea. Needless to say, the politically-bent motivation behind a lot of the bad blood felt...well, irritating and distracting. The spectators who came to these games for the sole purpose of demonstrating against Japan were missing the point, were missing out on the real fun of the game, the chance to improve the level of Football in this continent. I wrote an article about it after the East Asian (EAFF) Cup final back in 2005 (to read a copy of it, click here).

The Rivalry

"What had we done to be insulted by Australia?" might have been an understandable initial reaction. But after a little time, it started to sink in. Oohh, I see. This is what it's like to be in a pure footballing rivalry. No politics, just football history -- sure, some of it was heartbreaking history, but that's part of the drama we love so much.

Confederations Cup 2001: Japan 1-0 Australia (Knockout round)
World Cup 2006: Japan 1-3 Australia (Group round)
Asia Cup 2007: Japan 1-1 (PK 4-3) Australia (Knockout round)
WCQualifier 2009: Japan 0-0 Australia (1st leg)
WCQualifier 2009: Japan 1-2 Australia (2nd leg)
Asia Cup 2011: Japan 0-0 (Ext 1-0) Australia (Final)

With a recent history like this, all full-on matches with no friendlies to speak of, it is only natural for a rivalry to grow -- one with pride in our own and a certain degree of respect for the other.

My friend John Duerden just wrote a great article about it on Fox Sports today, and it reminded me of that moment.

The banner displayed by the Aussie fans back in 2009 still remains in our memory -- so clear, and easy to understand for Japanese supporters even with a high school level English, and so very purely football. In fact, I know for a fact that the Ultras Nippon members are currently trying to work out a good banner to display in Brisbane for tomorrow's game -- trying to find an appropriate and elegant comeback for that giant yellow message. Reading their tweets of ideas, you get a sense of their enjoyment of the rivalry, how they are relishing the upcoming battle they will do Down Under.

The Japan Convergence

What makes it even more enjoyable is the mix of J-league based players that have been called to the Australian team. One Samurai superfan heading to Brisbane, who is also a dedicated Sapporo supporter, was devastated when he realized he had forgotten to pack a sign and the Sapporo jersey he had prepared to wave at Consadole defender Jade North. And of course the four other J-leaguers listed on the roster are no slouches either. Probably the most famous in Japan is Josh Kennedy, who has shown time and again what a class act he is at Nagoya Grampus.

The Australian team has been undergoing some transformation recently with the addition of these Japan-based players. Their moves to Japan clubs have added technique and creativity to the Australia game, resulting in a more three-dimensional style that mixes power and athleticism with skill and style.

And let's not forget how familiar Coach Osieck is with the Japanese style and mindset, having two seasons managing at Urawa Reds under his belt.

According to Australian news sources, the Australian team are confident about their physical prowess and advantage over the smaller Japan side. Some Japan papers are reporting that Australia may plan to attack on Nagatomo's side -- utilizing Kennedy's towering height to get long feeds past the InterMilan sideback. There is speculation over whether Alberto Zaccheroni will replace the very-in-form Maeda with the supertall Mike Havenaar to compensate for height. Or whether Uchida will be replaced by the younger and less-experienced but faster and physically stronger Hiroki Sakai on the right.

The countdown has begun. I hope it turns into the best of games. Watching the Euros this weekend has been eye-opening and inspiring, and if there ever was a chance to see a good game in these Asia qualifiers, this would be one.

Final random thoughts:

Two pieces of news that I heard were a little disappointing. One is that apparently the Suncorp Stadium we'll be using on Tuesday night was just the venue for a big rugby match played in the rain a few days ago. Though stadium officials are promising to smooth out the pitch, I don't have high hopes for the pitch condition. The second is that there is a rumor that the game will not be broadcast on any "regular" Australian network television channel. I wonder if this is true. (In Japan we'll have a choice between two channels, one is the national broadcaster and one is a network.)

So far the two previous broadcasts of the games against Oman and Jordan broke the tv ratings record for all television programming broadcast so far in 2012. The Oman game received a 30% average while the Jordan game had 31%. Though I couldn't help smiling when I heard Keisuke Honda's reaction to this news: 30% means only 1 in 3 people in Japan watched the game -- that's not that high.

FJLIT Video Vortex: Week Ending Jan. 28, 2012
Ok, Next Do It Through a Hurtling Train: The video clip of Shunsuke Nakamura's bending free kick through a moving bus aired on a Japanese New Year's variety program and quickly found its way to being viewed and mentioned by people from around the globe. The ex-Bhoy has still got it! Here's a clip of Shun's beauty during Confederations Cup 2003 against France. Most overseas football fans may remember him most for his home and away double against Van der Sar in the Champions League, but since Japan's playing France later on this year I thought this might be more timely.

What's That You Say? You Thought I'd Forgotten How to Score Goals?: Shinji Kagawa scores two for BVB Dortmund in the 3-1 win over Hoffenheim, goals number five and number six for him this season. Despite high praise following his slinky and creative performance last Round, Kagawa has been struggling to find the right balance between feeding the passes and aiming for goal. This clip of his two assists against Wolfsburg in Round 12 (watch from 7m12sec) displays that attractive ease with which Dortmund can play when the team is jelling.

I Know Kung-Fu: Hajime Hosogai may be from Japan, but his assist for teammate Stephen Hain's equalizer against Kaiserslautern had a bit of the Jackie Chan flair. His FC Augsburg side are clearly heading for relegation danger as they have only won 3 games in 19 rounds.

Just Kick It To My Head: Mike Havenaar kept some hope alive when he scored his first Eredivisie goal of his life in the 83rd minute against top side PSV. He was substituted in just minutes prior. His post-match interview was a delightful study of how bi- and tri-linguals weave in and out of different languages, especially when they are not completely comfortable in one or the other. Yes, Mike is tall. He's definitely tall for a Japanese player, but he's even tall for the Dutch. (This reminds me of the story his Vitesse teammate Michihiro Yasuda once shared about toilets in the Netherlands being too high for comfortable usage by leg-length-challenged individuals like him... but I digress.)

Naoki Friends Memorial Match Jan 22 2012
What He's Left Behind: The memorial match (click for digest program in Japanese) for ex-Marinos, Matsumoto Yamaga and International defender Naoki Matsuda brought bittersweet memories to the crowds that gathered at the Yokohama pitch for one final goodbye. Team Marinos (where the charismatic number 3 played for 15 years) played against Team Naoki Friends. It was a star-studded affair with the who's who of Yokohama and national teams of days gone by. Former National team manager Phillipe Troussier, who had a special relationship with Matsuda, returned as did Hidetoshi Nakata and others from 02 World Cup squad. For more footage of the event, you can check these additional clips.

Matsu died suddenly of heart failure during training in August 2011 at the age of 34. He was a real no-frills footballer and a guy's guy with none of the pretensions that may breed among those with a successful pro career, and was often cited as one of the few people who could truly argue with Hide Nakata on equal terms.
Editing is an Art!
One of my favorite people on Youtube is Sonareditor -- a super editor who creates wonderfully inspiring videos related to some of Japanese football's biggest moments in the past year or so. He clips bits and pieces of video and melds it brilliantly with a J-pop song.

While I get myself organized and gather my wits, please take a break from your hectic day with these videos:

This one is an overview of the 2011 Asia Cup held in Qatar. All the goofs and glory.

This is from the Charity football game held on March 29 immediately after the earthquake/tsunami/radiation tragedy of last March 11. The Japan national team played the "J-league Team As One" (no slouch of a team, a roster populated with such names as Tulio, Shunsuke Nakamura, Kengo Nakamura, Ono, Ogasawara, Nakazawa, Haavenar, Komano, Okubo, legendary Kazu Miura, et al, headed by Stojkovic). It was in a way the most important game in our football history though it will never be recorded in the official books. Footage of the game are intercut with scenes of the players from J league teams actively collecting donations in their respective cities. Here is a digest of the actual charity event and game, in case you hadn't caught it.

This one celebrated the excitement stirred by our two sidebacks, Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan) and Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 06), who were going head-to-head in the Champions League. It's funky.


Since this blog was on hiatus during the 2010 World Cup, here's one of my favorite videos capturing the excitement of Japan's 2010 group stage adventures. (Not related to Sonareditor.)

Are Japanese supporters hooligans....? :) Nah. Here is Video proof. This was taken in Roppongi district of Tokyo in the early morning hours following Japan's 3-1 win over Denmark in the group stage of World Cup 2010. Everyone was watching in bars or on their phones out in the street, so when we won and qualified for the knockout stage, well... we were shocked and ecstatic. But we obey traffic lights!

Rising from the ashes, albeit wobbly...!
January 8 2012:

Well the Mayans said we are kaput this year, so no better time to restart this blog, right? I always hedge my bets...

Please stay tuned, and I should have some updates coming.

Meanwhile, just want to wish everyone out there a Happy New Year!

If you need to contact me about anything, please use

new EMAIL:

Important Announcement
Hi Everyone,
Hope everyone's doing well.

As you know, I have not been able to post new entries in the past months. Unfortunately, I don't think this status will change.

Of course I feel terrible, and have been irritated because I have missed practically all the games of the past month -- the All Stars, the overseas players news, and of course the J-League games.

Though I have been holding out some small hope that I would be able to squeeze in articles here and there, I realize now that it is going to be nearly impossible to keep it going on any consistent basis.

So, it saddens me greatly that I will be pausing my activities on this blog for an indefinite time. This means that for now I will not be posting any new entries for the forseeable future.

I will probably not be able to stay away completely, which is why I will keep the blog open for viewing. I hope to return.

Things that I will continue to do:

If you happen across this blog with questions about Japanese football, you are more than welcome to email me and say hello and ask me whatever you like.

If you are looking for a certain item/jersey/magazine, etc., and want help acquiring it, I will continue to provide help in this area -- check this post for details. I have already sent dozens of people jerseys and goods, and I know how hard it is for people in other countries to get their hands on Japan club or national team goods over the internet.

I have gotten to know many of you through this blog, and it has been so much fun sharing and chatting about the players and the teams. I hope you continue to follow Japanese football, and I certainly hope you stay in touch. My email will be active for many years, and you can always reach me through this address.

Thank you all for giving me a lot of great feedback and support. I am amazed at how many people in other countries are interested in Japanese football, and for me as a fan of Japanese football it has been the inspiration to keep this blog going for as long as it did! Thank you!

A big hug to all of you out there,

Changing Plans
Hi All, thanks for keeping the comments section active in the previous posts! Any links and news info you want to share please go ahead and write in... I always have a great time reading what you all have to say.

Unfortunately, I am still working and will not be able to do the Germany game match report until Monday.

Sunday night will be the Malta game. So Monday (which I have off after a weekend of working..grrrr) I will do a joint report on both games.

I also have to finish populating the table of our 23 men, and before out first WC game I will be posting an entry on Zico Japan's style/philosophy.

My aim is to have all this done before the first game against Australia -- after that it's going to all be about ENJOYING watching the World Cup!!

Sorry for the delay, guys. I will try and catch up ASAP.
Okay, I know some of you mentioned disappointment at not seeing Daisuke Matsui on the World Cup squad list in your comments.

All I can say is: me too.

But grumbling about it won't do any good, so here are some snazzy video compilations of our Dai that were found on youtube. If some of you can't understand why I look at him like I'm watching a chocolate cake, well, maybe this will give you an idea.

>>clip If you don't have time to watch all three, then this one is the best content and quality-wise.


>>clip This is of his first year in France, when Le Mans were in the 2nd division.

I miss him already.
Ladies and Gentlemen...
I present to you, the

2006 World Cup Japan National Football Squad:

Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, Jubilo Iwata
Seigo Narazaki, Nagoya Grampus
Yoichi Doi, FC Tokyo

Makoto Tanaka, Jubilo Iwata
Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, Gamba Osaka
Akira Kaji, Gamba Osaka
Alex Santos, Urawa Reds
Keisuke Tsuboi, Urawa Reds
Yuji Nakazawa, Yokohama F Marinos
Yuuichi Komano, Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Koji Nakata, FC Basel

Takashi Fukunishi, Jubilo Iwata
Mitsuo Ogasawara, Kashima Antlers
Shinji Ono, Urawa Reds
Hidetoshi Nakata, Bolton
Shunsuke Nakamura, Celtic
Junichi Inamoto, West Bromwich
Yasuhito Endo, Gamba Osaka

Keiji Tamada, Nagoya Grampus
Atsushi Yanagisawa, Kashima Antlers
Masashi Oguro, Grenoble
Naohiro Takahara, (Hamburg SV, but just tranfered to Frankfurt)
Seiichiro Maki, Jef United Chiba

For the most part, this list was the predicted outcome by almost every football fan.

However, as usual in every World Cup announcement, there was one completely unexpected selection: that of Seiichiro Maki over Tatsuhiko Kubo for the forward position. As you know, Kubo is the top scorer in Zico Japan, and that happening despite the fact that he played in relatively fewer games than many of the other forwards. He is considered, in his top form, the best that Japan has to offer in terms of dynamism in front of goal, body balance, and is considered one of few true "strikers". However, after his injury in 2004, that occured just before the Asia Cup, he has been unable to free himself of chronic fitness/injury issues. Though Zico has been most persistent in calling him up to the squad, it was apparent in last week's Kirin Cup matches (he did not play against Bulgaria and looked far from fighting form against Scotland) that it would be unlikely that he could get himself up to true form within the next few weeks. The chonic nature of his mulitple woes made it unlikely that he would make a miraculous full recovery in time for WC play. For this reason, Zico explained, Kubo was taken off the list. Kubo was gracious about his obvious disappointment at not being selected; he kept his comments characteristically brief, but faced the media with a good attitude.

In Kubo's place, Maki got the call-up. And deservedly. Maki has been well aware that his chances at the World Cup squad were close to nil. Despite that, he showed an inspiring spirit of dogged persistence during his appearances this year. He will undoubtedly make life a lot easier for whomever he partners with up front should he get the opportunity to play. Maki's top item on his to-do list is to establish relationships with the players who play in Europe, as he has yet to stand on the same pitch with the likes of Hide, Taka and Shunsuke.

Aside from the Kubo surprise, it was also noted that Daisuke Matsui was missing from the list. Personally, you all know that I was really gunning for Matsui. Zico explained that in his mind the choice was between lefty speed dribbler forward Tamada or dribbling magic-maker Matsui. He opted for Tamada. It was extremely telling that Zico decided on placing 5 forwards in his list at the expense of a creative midfielder. Both Matsui and Tamada can show with their dribbling, but given the overall contribution/experience factor in terms of the National team, and perhaps also the expectation that we needed more options in the forwards group, he went with Tamada.

I was wondering if Yanagisawa would be cut from the squad because he is still not ready to play after the broken bone in his foot that occured a month ago. There was a Nabisco game played yesterday, and Yanagisawa was not even on the bench. I am uncertain how fast Yanagisawa will make his way back to game-readiness.

The team will gather on May 17 for the domestic training camp; on the 26th, they will arrive in Germany. After that, they will have two friendlies against Malta and Germany.

Then, it's game time.

I will return on Wednesday with a discussion of all the players, some interesting stories, and how we hope for them to contribute to the team's success. I would also like to quickly review the history of Japan at the WC, to give you an idea of the general progression of the nature and growth of the Japanese national team over the past 3 WCs to set the backdrop.

I will then try and provide you all with as much chatter, photos, etc, about how the team is doing in practice and in the two remaining friendlies.

I am filled with excitement and pride for these men. So many stories converging at this one point in time. No looking back now.
Almost Back
Hi Everyone,

Just checking in to let you know that I will be able to resume my regular blog activities starting next week.

Right now, here is the update on the National Team:

The Kirin Cup is starting, with tonight's game against Bulgaria (at Osaka's Nagai stadium) and then the game against Scotland.

The 23-man squad was announced for these two games:

Yoishi Doi, FC Tokyo
Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, Jubilo Iwata
Seigo Narazaki, Nagoya Grampus

Makoto Tanaka, Jubilo Iwata
Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, Gamba Osaka
Alessandro Santos, Urawa Reds
Yuji Nakazawa, Yokohama F Marinos
Keisuke Tsuboi, Urawa Reds
Shinji Murai, Jubilo Iwata
Akira Kaji, Gamba Osaka
Yuuichi Komano, Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Teruyuki Moniwa, FC Tokyo

Takashi Fukunishi, Jubilo Iwata
Mitsuo Ogasawara, Kashima Antlers
Masashi Motoyama, Kashima Antlers
Shinji Ono, Urawa Reds
Yasuhito Endo, Gamba Osaka
Yuki Abe, Jef United Chiba
Makoto Hasebe, Urawa Reds

Tatsuhiko Kubo, Yokohama F Marinos
Keiji Tamada, Nagoya Grampus
Seiichiro Maki, Jef United Chiba
Hisato Sato, Sanfrecce Hiroshima

The Bulgaria game tonight will see the following starting members:

---- Kubo - Tamada
-- Murai - Endo - Kaji
---- Fukunishi - Abe
Nakazawa - Miyamoto - Tanaka
------- Kawaguchi

pre-bulgaria.jpgAs you might notice, the Kashima Antlers and Urawa Reds players are missing from the starting lineup. This is because they had a game on Sunday (against each other, in which Urawa Reds annihilated Kashima Antlers 4-0) and thus are not fitness-ready for a game two days later. They may substitute in according to the needs of the game.

With the Antlers and Reds players missing, Zico has chosen Endo to move up to playmaking duties -- a first for Endo on the NT.

Bulgaria boasts a team with a great height advantage, and in defense and offense the test for Japan is whether they can and will adjust their tactics and style if Bulgaria comes on strong in the air.

The Japan squad is a full domestic squad, and since everyone has just played three games in the past week for the league already, this week's two games will be a test of their fitness and ability to plow through their fatigue on top of the usual expectations of passing, finishing, and defensive organization.

The World Cup squad will be announced on May 15th. The WC squad is expected to be picked from the pool of the above 23-man domestic players list + 7 players in Europe (H.Nakata, K.Nakata, Nakamura, Takahara, Matsui, Inamoto, Oguro).
Will Be Gone
Hi Everyone,

ANNOUNCEMENT: This Blog will take a short break until Mid-May.

I will be unable to post for another few weeks due to job-related travel that will take me out of the country. I've been in and out for the past couple weeks, which is why I haven't been able to post new entries, and have not been able to watch any of the J league games for review on this blog unfortunately.

Sorry to everyone who has been following my reports as their only source of info. However, if you are keen to keep up with the J league rounds until Mid-may, please email me and I can forward links to highlight videos and such. Or if you would like to be notified via email when I resume my entries, email me with a note to that effect.

Otherwise, I will be back by mid-May, at which point it will be the time to review the two Kirin Cup games against Scotland and Bulgaria, and to look at the National Squad announcement for the World Cup team. (biting my nails already!) From then onwards to the World Cup, the discussion will be entirely about the National team, and we can warm ourselves up for June's gem event by taking a detailed look at the squad members and catch up on related news as it comes in.

Look forward to "seeing" you all then! In the meantime, you are all welcome to post comments on your thoughts about the J league and the National Team, or if you hear news you'd like to share.

I'm in Blog-writing withdrawal already...sniff!
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