Football (Japan) Lost In Translation . . . Relaunched 2012!
Japan Football: Zaccheroni, Samurai Blue, and general J chatter
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A little moment to relax and unwind....
For the Japan supporters who were able to book a ride home with the National Team on their chartered flight, a neat little surprise awaited.



First, an appearance by Alberto Zaccheroni and captain Makoto Hasebe with words of thanks to the supporters who flew Down Under to show their support.

Then the entire squad filed into the aisles to show their appreciation. It was the eve of Keisuke Honda's 26th Birthday, and the fans serenaded him with a chorus of the Happy Birthday song.



Back in their section of the plane, the squad on a whim decided to open a bottle of bubbly and celebrate the Birthday boy.

They arrived in Japan safely.



Following their arrival home, Kazu Miura asked Hasebe to help organize a get-together with the overseas players. Those who were able to make it: Hasebe, Kawashima, Nagatomo, Miyaichi, Kagawa, Hosogai, Morimoto, Yoshida, and Uchida.

june14KazuDinner.jpg Click on photo for full album.

The next couple months are still going to be full of activity, as many members will have to deal with possible transfer deals, and some are already set to join new clubs. Leverkusen has taken Hosogai back from Augsburg for this upcoming season, and it will be a critical season in his footballing career. Kawashima is looking to find a new home in Italy or England, but openings for goalies, and in particular non-native goalies are quite rare. Of course, Kagawa's imminent move to Manchester United will keep media in both countries busy through the summer. And there is some rumor that Morimoto is desperate to find a new club, including possible choices in the J-league.

The Olympics squad's provisional list of 35 was announced this week -- notable were the inclusion of Miyaichi and Kiyotake, the exclusion of Kagawa, and the possible use of Yoshida in the OverAge category. Yoshida, who injured his knee during the Jordan game, vowed to be healed and ready if or when he is called.



The next scheduled game for Samurai Blue is a friendly against Venezuela in Sapporo, August 15.

The Olympics squad will have a pre-London warm-up game against New Zealand on July 11 in Tokyo.
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[WCQFinal] Japan 1-1 Australia @ Brisbane June 12 2012
The clash between Japan and Australia last week was certainly a highlight that capped an interesting 10 day period of World Cup Qualifiers. It had all the rivalry, pedigree and drama that colors memorable games -- and in these internet-reliant times, launches thousands of blog entries and tweets.

Let me Rant for a Teeny Second

Needless to say, "Khalil Ibrahim Al #Ghamdi" was trending that night. If you watched the game, you know why. His judging of what was in itself an entertaining battle between two Asian forces distracted focus and devalued the game. Though everyone had their two cents to voice about how something needed to be done about Asian refs, my verdict is that he as an individual should never be allowed to call competitive events. He goes far beyond "inept" into "actively damaging" territory.

I shudder in horror at the thought that this man earns his living as a teacher. He used his whistle like an abusive educator uses a heavy wooden ruler, with a misguided notion that penalizing players would help him gain authority or respect. So busy was he with his whistle, he had been surprised to be informed by his colleagues that the yellow card to Milligan 11 minutes into the second half was in fact the second shown to the player. I won't even get into the other calls, except to say that Al Ghamdi looked intimidated in his role and completely out-of-depth.

And I wish the media would just come out and say "wrong" call instead of "controversial". It's not controversial if everyone knows it was wrong.

Okay. Enough venting.

Two Ships in the Night



On the very surface, the media built up the match as one not to miss (and rightly so). The Rivalry was a definite theme latched on to by both nations' media.

But turn a page, and the pitch at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium was a stage for two very different stories.

Less than 24 hours before the game, Socceroos captain Lucas Neill tweeted "Japan favourites, in form and full of confidence. I'm happy with the underdog tag. Brings out the best in us.." He repeated these sentiments at the press conference as well, as if to deflect the mounting pressure the media was placing on the team and its aging roster, particularly after witnessing Japan's 6-0 undoing of Jordan. Many were dismissing them as anachronistic, lacking a clearly defined style, disappointed by the goalless draw away in Oman just days earlier. Luckily for Australia fans, the team was full of very experienced players who knew to keep their eye on the main prize -- a ticket to Brazil. Neill admitted they would have taken the 1 point going in to the match.

The men in blue took the stage with a completely different mindset. With two years to go until WC2014, Japan is in the midst of developing what will hopefully turn into a distinct Japanese style. It is a theme with which the national team had continued to painfully struggle under previous coaches like Zico, Osim, and Okada. Though the ticket to Brazil is obviously a priority for the team in the short term, ultimately the squad's gaze is directed further -- past the group stages into the final eight or higher. Japanese players all voiced their intention to fight for the full 3 points from Osiek's men. This was not only to sit comfortably in the group table, but also as an individual milestone set in their developmental journey.


Highlights



It was a heart-thumping effort by both teams, each playing to their strength. We had everything from strong breaks by Australia, superb saves, shots bouncing off frames, a last-second clearance, beautiful variety of corners and short corners, a Marseille-roulette by Honda, sigh-inducing chances, and the integrity of two teams who truly want to play well.

After the game, Shinji Kagawa summarized the players' feelings by saying it was a game really worth playing -- a game he really got something out of. Other Japan members have also mentioned they were really starting to enjoy their football as well.

If you are eager to read about it, here are some great writers who have done the job eloquently:

Espn/John Duerden
Goal.com/Matt Bloomberg
FoxSoccer/AP


The Way It Ended

Honda wins a free kick, sets the ball, takes a breath, lines his sights on the goal:
June12HondaFKbefore.jpg
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Referee blows the whistle to end the game, forcing Honda and his teammates to raise their arms in question and disbelief.

June12HondaFKafter.jpg


A mother watching the game with her little son tweeted: "My son just turned to me and asked if this game was To Be Continued next week..."

Yes, adorable. And a little sad to imagine the little boy spent the next few days wondering what happened to that last free kick. Snatched out from under our noses like Lucy jerking the ball away from Charlie Brown.


Who doesn't like a good cliff-hanger at the end of a television drama's season?

This Australia game resulted in the highest television ratings average so far for 2012 in Japan, with a 35% share. At the moment of the final whistle, the ratings had climbed to a momentary peak of 45%.

Both teams were studies in contrast as they meandered towards each other to exchange handshakes. Cahill trotted over to a still nonplussed Honda to exchange jerseys. And while the relief emanating from Osiek's features and his emotional words of pride at his team illustrated just how worried they had been going into the game, you could see the members of the Samurai's gazes already preoccupied, mentally reviewing the game and coming to terms with the result.


The Road Ahead


This game came at the perfect time and place for Zaccheroni. A difficult away game, the third and last in a series, an experienced and tough opponent who knew how to use a simple aerial approach, awful pitch conditions and a ridiculous referee.

None of it was un-expected. Japan were well-aware of the possibility for all of it. So the question is why they were unable to manage it better. Captain Hasebe pointed to their poor away performance as one big issue they need to address. The other of course is the lack of depth in the bench in terms of defense. The centerback position had been an achilles from the moment Zaccheroni decided not to keep Nakazawa and Tulio -- the cement wall that made a huge contribution in Japan's result at the South Africa World Cup. Though I may understand why Zaccheroni removed them from his immediate call-up lists, Japan's shaky handling of Australia's long-ball approach left many wondering if at least Tulio should be called back. (Though he won't.)

Thanks to the bouquet of yellows Japan received, the roster is dripping with cards, and this will give (force?) Japan the much-needed opportunity to really put the bench to the test.

And let's not forget the power of a strong bench, especially during big tournaments. One of Japan's biggest strengths is the incredible team culture, and the ability of the non-starting players to keep their motivation and momentum high while prepping themselves both mentally and physically for a sudden appearance during any long-haul schedules. A full analysis has to be done on what can be done about the back line, given that any World Cup opponent bent on capitalizing on Japan's weakness will utilize the same strategy.


Though the little boy may have had the wrong idea when he asked if the game would continue next week, the theme of To Be Continued does seem poetic and appropriate.




[WCQFinal] Japan 6-0 Oman @ Saitama Stadium June 8 2012
For those of you who have no access to watching Japan games, I put together a little timeline collection of videos.

Pre Pre Pre Game
Even before the team appeared on the pitch for pre-game warm-up, Yoshida and Uchida have been coming out to hang out and take in the atmosphere. Not really all that exciting, but kind of like watching pandas at the zoo. Oh, and you can also see the sprinklers going at full blast -- luckily Saitama stadium has an environmentally friendly water collection/storage/drainage system.



Pre Pre Game

The squad as they get themselves collected and pumped, waiting for that familiar Fifa anthem to herald them into the arena.



Pre Game

The Japanese national anthem.



Game

This is the best edit of the game highlights I found -- showing how each of the chances were built from the defense-->attack.



As you can see, it was not without the usual surprises -- an early 2-0 lead by Japan by the 20th min, a red card to Jordan (which I thought was a little harsh and personally would have preferred to see a full 90 min 11-on-11 game), an injury to Yoshida (who left the team to seek treatment for a pretty bad knee injury), Hasebe with his bandaged head, a hat-trick by Honda, a first-time goal for substitute centerback Kurihara.

If the Oman game could be described in one word as Thorough, then this game against Jordan may have to be called Relentless. Aside from the first 5-10 mins of the second half, Japan were pretty much shutting down anything Jordan had to offer. It allowed Japan to control the game and keep Jordan on the back foot. Even before the Jordanians were down a player, they were struggling to get anything done going forward, and scrambling to keep track of who and where they needed to mark in defense. Despite the unbelievable scoreline at Half-time, Jordan did come back with a bounce in their step, and for the first ten minutes of the second half, really gave Japan a few scares via some strong mid-range shots and headers -- ie., playing more like we expect them to play. Japan, with the 4 goal lead had taken their foot off the gas a little, but Maeda's persistence inside the box invited a penalty, and that took a lot of the wind out of Jordan's sails.



Personal use camera technology has come a long way since the days when I had to manually wind the film to the next shot -- this footage from a video camera held by a supporter shows all six goals from the perspective of those in the stands... it's actually really very well shot given all the excitement. And you get to see a version of the game that you couldn't witness via tv broadcast!

EURO 2012 Begins

I am grateful that the Euros started right after this 6-0 Jordan game. It keeps things in perspective. Hasebe shared in his blog that he watched the opening Euro game after returning to the hotel on Friday night, and he briefly touched on the fact that these were the types of opponents that the Japan team were eventually going to have to defeat to make any mark in the world. Keeps our feet on the ground.

I am not grateful for the 3:30 a.m. game broadcast..... no... sleep.
A Week of Stuff, just Stuff.
Aww, You Red Devil, You!

Manchester United caught Shinji Kagawa by surprise when they suddenly announced on their site that they had pretty much reached an agreement with Kagawa. Of course, the reaction in the media both in England/Japan and around the world was immediate. Kagawa himself kept tight-lipped about the final steps to making it official by saying that because the deal was not yet fully complete, he was not comfortable making any comment on the situation. He stressed the need to focus on the week ahead and the remaining World Cup Qualifiers against Jordan and Australia. Many fans were relieved to see he was handling the situation so maturely, though it didn't stop the rest of us from going a little nuts for a while.

One such admirer put together a stylish compilation video that got a lot of recognition among Youtube users this week. (See avobe right screen)

Zaccheroni himself, commenting that he was also asked to refrain from making any lengthy statement about the big transfer, admitted that it was impossible not to say anything. He revealed that he told Kagawa "Good luck" but not "Congratulations" -- in other words, this was not the finish line but merely the starting point. Pretty apt.

Jordan Arrives in Japan

After tying Iraq at home 1-1, Jordan landed in Japan on the evening of the 5th. Jordan have always struck me as a tough team who plays with a lot of heart. Throughout the week the Japanese media never forgot to mention that Japan had yet to actually win against Jordan inside 90 minutes, and a lot of discussion revolved around why Jordan had always given us so much trouble.

Their most well-known player among Japan supporters is their goalkeeper Shafi -- burned into our memories during Asia Cup 2004 when S. Nakamura and Alex both missed their shot during the penalties. Shafi didn't actually stop the shots -- the balding patch of dirt to the right of the PK spot was the culprit. However, we do remember the huge knot of dread in our stomachs as we watched Shafi's little celebration poses.
>>Watch Asia Cup 2004: Jordan v Japan, PK Shootout

Japan at 23

Through what kind of esoteric calculations, I have no idea, Japan's FIFA Ranking bounced back up to 23 this week from the previous 30. Australia came in second in Asia with 24, and Korea is at 35.

June4BBQ.jpg June6WalkEscalator.jpg

Eat Meat and Relax

The day after the Oman game, Zaccheroni and the JFA treated the squad to a night out at a Korean Barbecue restaurant. Kengo Nakamura and Hasebe both shared this photo on their blogs -- nothing says "cool" like paper bibs at the dinner table!

Maya also posted this photo of the guys posing on an escalator during one of their walks around the hotel neighborhood. Click photos to enlarge.

June5squadfoto.jpgJune5squadfotofull.jpg
If anyone wants to download this really really big group photo of this current squad, here is the link for the full size:
>>Click to go to full-size

News Video of Kagawa Transfer News (from 0:27) and National Team training footage (from 2:11)
[WCQFinal] Japan 3-0 Oman @ Saitama Stadium June 3 2012
June 3 Supporter at Japan vs Oman

Kagawa, woven arms The surprisingly in-tune voices of the record-breaking crowd at Saitama Stadium gave a beautiful performance of the Japanese national anthem. I have to admit, I prefer the instrumental-only version of the anthem so that you can hear the voices of the stadium. During friendly games, the sponsors always arrange to have some soloist sing it a capella, but nothing beats this giant chorus of 63,500+ voices. There was definitely a power to the crowd this night even prior to game start. It set a strong tone for the evening.


Japan took off from the whistle and continued to barrage Oman's defenders with lots of build-up via the sidebacks. I was glad to see Uchida putting in a much more spirited and ambitious performance particularly in the first 20 minutes. There was a lot of concern about whether the Europe-based players were going to be fit for the game, and although Hasebe admitted they were not at 100% yet it was obvious that the players were not planning on cutting any corners.

There was a distinct thoroughness to the way they played both in defense and offense, as if they were keeping mental images of training maneuvers in their minds. One aspect of training did bear fruit with a series of forward-moving one-touches allowing a speedy Nagatomo up the left side for a lobbed cross to an unmarked Honda at the far post for goal (11 min). The volley was angled and cleverly timed.


Things curiously slowed down after the first goal. Though Japan should have and could have tripled their lead in the first half, they seemed to fall into a semi-waiting game against Oman. I can only assume that the players were expecting Oman to switch their engines on to a more attack-minded play. But Oman stayed mysteriously quiet, showing no hint of wanting to score. Whether this was part of Oman coach Le Guen's gameplan, or whether it was just a result of Oman's nerves getting the best of them, I can't be sure.

Zaccheroni was visibly aggravated by the slowing down of pace. He has commented that he believes Japan's attack is most effective and successful when the players maintain a passing rhythm that is fast. Camera's showed him on the sidelines furiously gesturing to the players to stop mucking around with slow side-passes and get on with it, already. Japan got through Oman's defenses again and again, giving the linesmen a very good workout -- Japan was called off-sides numerous times, and the stadium sighed disappointed in unison when a shot from Kagawa was denied by the man with the flag. (see Video 5 for footage of Kagawa's shot)

A good talking-to during half-time seemed to do the trick, as the Samurai Blue returned to the pitch with more gusto. It took a beautiful diagonal through pass from Kagawa to Maeda to finally double the score at 6 min.


This certainly looked off-sides, but given the wonky linesmanning (is that a word?) during the first half, I figure we fared even.

The goal count went to three only a few minutes later when dribbling efforts by Nagatomo, Kagawa, and Maeda were rewarded by an Okazaki goal. In true Okazaki fashion his goal was less an elegant "set up" than it was a "collision" of opportunity, but that is his trademark, and it certainly has kept his international goal-count up.



Having collected a yellow card, Uchida was taken off and substituted by 22 year old Hiroki Sakai. Sakai was 2011 J-league Best New Player, and is expected to sign with a Bundesliga club in the near future. Okazaki, who had gunned his engine for the entire game, was substituted by Hiroshi Kiyotake (signed with FC Nurnberg starting July 1). You may remember him as the 22 year old who set up Honda's goal in the 3-0 friendly against Korea last year, or who sent up the cross for Yoshida's dramatic last-minute header during last qualifying round's home game 1-0 against North Korea.

H.Sakai looked understandably nervous at first, but he soon created a number of good chances from the right, taking advantage of his speed and power. One particularly promising play allowed him up to the base line for a cross back to Honda. Al Habsi showed his ability by denying Honda's shot as well as responding quickly to the follow-up shot by Kiyotake. Both Sakai and Kiyotake did not play to the best of their full abilities, but they were decent.

Endo was then subbed out for a spirited Hosogai whose energy always refocuses the team's defensive discipline when things start to wane towards the end of games.

Here is a neatly edited compilation of Japan's big chances.
(VIDEO 5)



According to match statistics Oman had only one shot during the game.

From the Oman Observer
Le Guen's post-game comments: “Japan deserved to be the winners as they were far better than us. To be frank we did not really exist in this match,’’ said Oman’s coach Paul le Guen in his post-match comments. “Our boys did not create any scoring opportunities and I am disappointed with that...We have to improve in order to come to such a level. Losing to Japan in Japan is not a shame. We will try to play better against Australia in Muscat on June 8,’’ said Le Guen.





Camp Chronicles: Training for vs. Oman
It's been an intense week with the Samurai Blue as they continued preparations for the start of the Final Qualifying Round game. The first half of the week was dedicated to physical conditioning of the players. Zaccheroni insisted on gathering the European players early to camp in order to get their bodies back on track during this post-season period. J-league players had games last Saturday and joined the squad training on Day 4, while Gamba Osaka players staggered in a couple days later after the Asian Champions League group game.

The latter half of the week was primarily focused on strategy -- particularly Oman-specific tactics. Though Zaccheroni allowed for the first 15 minutes of training to be open to media, cameras and reporters were shut out of the remainder.

Oman arrived in Japan under the poker-faced management of French coach Paul Le Guen. As you may know, he was the coach in charge of Cameroon during the 2010 World Cup, where Japan played Cameroon in the first match of the group games and had a surprise victory over the African giants 1-0. Japanese media aired segments on the Oman team leading up to the game, focusing on profiling national hero and Premier League Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.

What struck me about Al Habsi as I watched his interviews was not only his skill as a player, but his natural charisma and charm. Truly a classy player. (He and Ryo Miyaichi, who has been on-loan to Bolton from Arsenal, are very well-acquainted with each other. Ryo lives across the street from Al Habsi and his wife in England, and the couple look after Ryo by inviting him over for dinner frequently.)

May 28: Video of Oman players arriving, Japan training

May 29: Video of training and Endo interview

June 1: Video of training, Oman profile (Al Habsi), Close-up interview of Nagatomo

June 2: Video--Squad moves to Saitama stadium for final training

The long week together being confined within the walls of the hotel does have its down-side as the players begin to get antsy. Certain members of the squad have made it a habit to take strolls around their hotel/facilities whether in Japan or abroad. This video, taken by Kawaguchi on his mobile during their walk (May 31), shows Yoshida goofing with the child-sized slide, Maeda, and Miyaichi. After being confined for a week, Hasebe decided to join them for the first time -- he shares this photo on his blog of their stroll to a shopping center to hang out at a cafe.
Hasebe takes photo of Kawaguchi, Uchida, Yoshida, Miyaichi, Maeda during one of their walks

Zaccheroni commented during the pre-match press conference that he did notice some nerves among the squad members that day. When asked to expand, he said that though the players usually chat and play around with each other after their meals, he noticed the players were quieter that day and everyone headed straight for their rooms after eating. This must have made an impression on the Italian, who had been quite strict throughout the week with regard to the importance of switching mental gear to "fighting mode". To allay some of those nerves, the final day training was kept less-intense and light in mood.


*******
Extra:
A Japan supporter who attended last week's game against Azerbaijan took footage of the Japan bench throughout the game as players were substituted out. His edit was quite fun -- like a reversal of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. >>Watch video
One Week and Counting
Japan vs. Azerbaijan

Zaccheroni's request for a practice game in preparation for the start of the WCQualifying round was answered with a last-minute Friendly scheduled vs Azerbaijan on May 23. After sinking against North Korea and Uzbekistan in the previous Qualifying round, Zaccheroni has been particularly concerned with the condition of the Europe-based players -- who make up 90% of his starting squad and more than 50% of his roster.

The occasion marked the return of Keisuke Honda to the full squad after 8 months absence in and out of injury. Three players also debuted in this game -- 25-yr old FC Tokyo midfielder, Hideto Takahashi; the 22-year old sideback now top-listed by clubs around the world, Hiroyuki Sakai; and the 19 year old Arsene Wenger discovery and already-superadored Ryo Miyaichi.

Highlights Japan 2-0 Azerbaijan (Friendly)
First Half
Second Half

So, what have the squad been doing since? Domestic players were returned to their respective clubs for league duties, and the 12 Europe-based players remained with Zaccheroni after a day off to work on their conditioning.

Yesterday, the 3rd day of camp, the European players had a practice match against Urawa club youth teams. With Yoshida delayed with Venlo duties, Hasebe and Hosogai filled in as a centerback with Honda in defensive midfield. Though no one believes this in any way reflects what Zac has in store for Oman, it still would have been fun to see.

Domestic players also returned to Zac yesterday, spending the day on light exercise and avoiding any full-on practice.

News Video of Japan Squad on 3rd Day of Camp

Remember, you can also see raw footage of National Team camp training at >>Samurai Blue TV (the official JFA portal for great photos and videos of training, interviews). They've updated with footage from yesterday's session -- you can see Zaccheroni playfully shoving Kagawa off the ball, and the other players as they go through their exercises. Click on the thumbnails listed along with dates to launch video.

Did you know?

Since arriving in Japan, Alberto Zaccheroni has continued to show a great sensitivity towards the country and supporters. His style has particularly suited Japanese culture, and his affinity for Japanese food and his interest in facets of the country outside of football has won him a lot of appreciation.

One thing this Japan National Team coach has done that others have not is to publish "letters" regularly throughout the year. These are presented as the "Il Mio Giappone" series, and it gives Zaccheroni a way to communicate directly with interested supporters. In them, he introduces a wide variety of topics, from how Italians spend their summers to how he appreciates the way Japanese people give him his privacy when he rides the subway, to his thoughts when visiting his players at their respective clubs around Europe, to what he witnessed while viewing J-league games. It is insightful and very interesting.

Only the Japanese translation is available right now, but if you can read Japanese a little, I recommend looking through the archived articles. >>Il Mio Giappone
Are You Really Going to Wear That?

National team Home Kit
National team Away Kit
Sooooo.....Here are the New Home and Away kits for the Japan National Team.

I'm still not quite convinced that these two were great design choices graphically speaking -- though you can tell the creators bent over backwards to execute the difficult task of minimalist design to represent some great meaning.

Gut-reactions from supporters have not been on the positive side -- overall effect of the line is weak, opponents can read player weight distribution if you put a line down the middle, why is the blue getting so dark, people have to squint and cross their eyes to see the washed out bird shadow, and so on.

This, of course, has not stopped the home kits from selling out, however. A new kit is a new kit afterall. And despite the mixed response, the intention of bringing Japan together in Unity following the earthquake and tsunami disaster has been one undeniably significant facet of football in Japan during the 10 months since.

And so we go on...
Oh, what a truly disappointing end of the story. I don't think it has really hit me yet, the reality that it is all over.

I've been also disappointed by the fact that I have been too busy to relax and really enjoy the World Cup. The way the schedule and time difference work out, most of the games are so late at night, and even those games I've taped I will have to wait a while to watch. I know I have been horrible about updating this blog, but maybe it was for the best... you all would be reading a lot of very frustrated entries!

As for our boys in blue -- well, their performance in this World Cup begs several questions.

- scoring. Japan really needs to develop true strikers
- coach. What kind of coach does Japan need?
- youth. With many of the players now in their late twenties and early thirties, it will be necessary to replace with a younger and inexperienced generation very quickly.
- style. Does the Brazilian style of football fit Japan's abilities?
- strategy. Was it too early to put together such a defense-light team?
- physical. Both in terms of strength but also in terms of stature -- our defenders were completely dwarfed by the opponents.
- conditioning. This team was out of top form going into the tournament -- too many injuries to too many players.
- mental. This was a relatively cool team, lacking in some of the emotional gusto of previous generations. What kind of personality do we want out there on the pitch?

- captain. I will be the first to admit, Miyamoto absolutely croaked out there. He is one to be extremely sensitive to details, and tends to get obsessed with the details. He fell apart this month -- something we caught a glimpse of during the first game against North Korea last year. On the other hand, someone like Hide Nakata, who often took the captain's armband in prior years, also had trouble bringing the team together, though he tried many tactics somewhere in there he lacked the natural power to bring the team closer together.

For now, I will leave these issues for you all to debate at will. Now, it's back to the drawing board for the JFA.

They announced a couple months ago that they would not begin serious consideration for the next National Team coach until July. Some people like the idea of going back to a Japanese coach for reasons of communication and commitment to Japanese football. Some people want to see another European style coach in the driver's seat. Some people don't care where the coach comes from just as long as he has a clear analytical and strategic mind, something more concrete than what Zico's philosophy offered.

The JFA had said last month or so that they intend to stick with a Zico-type philosophy for the future of the national team -- in other words, they want someone who will allow the players a degree of independence and creativity on the pitch as well as bringing to the team the intangible qualities of a classy attitude as athletes.

I really enjoyed reading everyone's comments on this blog -- it felt good to finally hear some of your opinions and hear how others felt. Thank you all so much for visiting and debating and exchanging information!!

I will continue to look back at this team as the months pass, and perhaps come to some conclusion about what we can take from this experience. I have to admit, it was a bumpy and strange ride, but aren't they all...!
Australia 3-1 Japan
An absolutely unforgivable turn of events.

All of you have seen the game, so I won't go into detail. But here are the highlights:

Kawaguchi saved us by barely a thread on numerous occasions.

The team was not playing nearly good enough.

The press was not working.

The team did not take the shots properly or failed to attempt shots at all.

The sides barely sent in any good crosses.

The team still has problems keeping the lead when they score fairly early in the game. It has occured often, they give up the lead towards the end. Sometimes they fight back at the last moment, but all in all, it feels like they are still shaky when they have the lead.

Tsuboi's early exit from the game (injury) was an unexpected disadvantage. It must feel surreal for Moniwa, who only a week or so ago was basking under the sun in Hawaii thinking his chance to be part of a WC squad had slipped through his fingers.


But most of all,

most of all,


and really I think this is the part that really makes me look back at this match with supreme irritation:

Zico's lack of logic in substitutions reared its ugly head.

In past games, the team was able to eke out wins despite the fact that Zico's player substitutions were very late or made for or with (what I believe) were inappropriate players.

I love this team, and I do believe in Zico's basic philosophy that Japan can only get better if they are given the opportunity to grow into a bigger pair of football boots.

However, the players were obviously exhausted in the last thirty minutes in the surprisingly high temperatures. And aside from the substitution made when Tsuboi was injured (I think he pulled his thigh muscle), Zico refused to budge. When he did make a move, way too late, it was to insert Ono for Yanagisawa.

No offense to Ono fans (because I love the guy), but he ain't the player to put in at a time like that. Not only is he hardly dynamic on defense, but he isn't particularly fast or strong. Inamoto should have gone it at the very least -- Ina being one of those scrappy players who times tackles and slides really well.

With only one forward left, it set the offense/defense balance off. And given the danger that Australia presented for most of the match, it was the wrong message to send.

When Zico did decide to put in a forward, it was Oguro with only 3 minutes remaining. Sure, Oguro has played the last-minute savior in a number of memorable matches, the odds that he could pull off another in this game with the team playing rather poorly -- well, that was unfair to expect of Oguro.

The team did not play well. But my irritation tonight is at Zico. He has always made it clear that his care for the players is utmost -- but there are times like tonight, when Nakamura was making mistakes (he passed to the Australian forwards near our penalty area), looked too tired to contribute to defense, and lacked quality on the few cross opportunities he got towards the end. It's true, Nakamura has the kind of one-chance magic that one would always like to keep on the pitch, but in general he should have been rested and would have not contributed to keeping the 1-0 lead towards the end.

I'm not sure I make any sense, but I have to go to sleep (early day tomorrow), so I will end here. I'd love to hear what you all thought about the game.

This puts Japan in an impossibly difficult situation going into the next two games -- Croatia are only going to be taller and even more rough on plays; and Brazil...well, is Brazil.

I'll post any follow up news between now and the Croatia game. I just hope I can pull myself out of bed tomorrow -- the depression is probably going to make me want to call in sick at work!
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