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Japan Football: Zaccheroni, Samurai Blue, and general J chatter
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Creepy Florent but the News is Good
In Friday night's Sporto (daily sports news show on FujiTV) , we were given a little fun news about Daisuke Matsui. I hadn't meant to write about him again after such a short time (I've been meaning to touch base on many other players), but news on Matsui is so few and far between that I thought it worth it to record it here.

Florent (Troussier's translator during his time with the JapanNT) hosts this segment called World Standard, which is a collection of the week's sports news from around the world -- the kind of stuff we don't get to read/hear/see in the usual media here. Anyway, Matsui was showcased in a French magazine called France Football. The article seemed very positive about Matsui's contribution to the team; but more than that, the style with which Matsui plays has captured the hearts of the French football fan (or at least LeMans'). The article called him "an artist". Aww.

Well, I'm happy that he is getting good PR. If LeMans fails to make it to LigueUn, any good PR will help get him other offers. I don't doubt that if LeMans does make it to LigueUn, the team will do whatever they can to convince him to stay.

I remember when Matsui was debating whether to take the leap and go to LeMans. It was during the Olympics when the news came, and Matsui had the good luck of having Shinji Ono on the U23 team as an overage player. Ono's advice to Matsui was that he thought Matsui would fit in well in the French league, that the style there would be appreciated and complemented by Matsui's style. I guess he was right!

The experience and knowledge of the players who have been playing in Europe is a tremendous asset to Japanese football in general. Their influence on younger players is great. Despite the disappointing result at last year's Olympics, I think it was significant to have Ono's presence there. Ono, in return, had the new experience of being a leader-figure; that experience for him hopefully will be something he refers to unconsciously when he returns to the NT.
Washington Stecanela Cerqueira
Today's Xerox Supercup was something I was looking forward to all week, after the break period between seasons in the J.League. There wasn't much in the 感動 department, this being a test-the-waters-type game after the break. However, the players did show good fitness and a feel for intricate passing that left me optimistic about the start of the season.

I started the game with an eye towards the sides -- Takuya Yamada, Hayuma Tanaka, and Takahito Soma. I've always liked Tanaka, and I know that a lot of fans want to see Soma tested in the NT as well. Zico was watching the game, and I'm sure many fans want him to see these guys as contenders for the NT roster for Iran (given that Alex is out, and should Miura or Kaji get hurt/sick there are no obvious backups except perhaps Yamada).

washington.jpgProbably the biggest impression most spectators left the stadium with was the new Verdy player, Washington. Capped for the Brazil NT 3 times, and standing at 189cm tall, he scored both points for Verdy, the second goal coming at injury time of the second half when Marinos was in the lead. Despite his large proportions, his movements were very balanced. He tended to stay put in front of the goal instead of moving around too much. The injury time goal must have been a big ouch for the Marinos defense; although the defenders kept a wary eye on him throughout the game, Washinton's strong presence and long limbs allowed him to break through the defense's efforts to keep him blocked. I am excited to see a striker like him appear in the J.League. Last year, Emerson was the most-feared forward....this year, Washington may give him a run for his money. Washington also seems like a very humble guy, already showing his team-oriented attitude in his comments after the game. I'd like to root for him this year. CONT'D
Happy Birthday Yuji!!
I was browsing the J-League website, when I noticed that Yuji Nakazawa's birthday is today! He is now 27 years old. I thought I'd do a little bio on him to celebrate.

At this point, it's fairly impossible to think of an NT without Nakazawa. Last year, he proved to be a powerhouse defender, both cool and passionate, strong and good-hearted. With his eyecatching "bomber head", it is hard to lose him in the crowd, too.CONT'D
Comment va dire "頑張れ"?
The internet is a magical place, where people can get information at the click of a mouse. We can exchange ideas about a football game with someone living on the other side of the world, and get perspective about a team or player from different types of football fans.

I have been growing more aware of the number of non-Japanese sites where you can find information on Japanese players or the NT or talk about them. [cont'd]
The Sweat of the Twelfth Man
This week, the JFA announced that about 810,000 people applied for the lottery to get tickets for the home game against Bahrain in March. There are only about 60,000 seats at the stadium, so the odds are pretty insane given that we aren't even at the World Cup, nor are the opponents any famous star-studded team.

I thought that while we had this month break until the next qualifying game, I'd touch on the Soul of the Twelfth Man, the supporters of the JapanNT. There seems to be a lot of opining that the Japanese supporters at the North Korea game were so emotional, cheering and waving flags, because of the political antagonism that exists between the countries.

jpnchn.jpgIf these people had any previous experience watching JapanNT games, they would have soon realized how off the mark this is. Opening and final games in qualifiers are especially difficult, and supporters always have flags and chant... I feel like the entire game was tainted by the overzealous media, coloring the air with something that should have been kept to a minimum.[cont'd]
J.League 12 Years
It's really strange to think that only 12 years have passed since the establishment of the JLeague. The way football news gives tough competition to baseball in current Japanese culture/news, you'd think we had been at it a little longer...tolf.jpgI was surfing around to find some info on the J League new season, and accidentally tripped upon this site:
JLeague 11 Years Memories.
There is video footage of JLeague awards presentations and also highlights of championship games from 1993-03. Definitely worth a look-see. I lived outside of Japan for most of this time, so it was really interesting to actually see video of these games.

For a video review of the highlights of the Entire 2004 Season, you should definitely visit the
J.League Video Archives.
The Righthand Column titled Video Archives is the place to look. In the column, the highlight videos are organized in chronological order backwards. Even if you can't read Japanese, you can see the dates attached and guess your way around it.

The site is pretty straightforward in the organization, so even if you don't read Japanese you can figure things out, I think. However, if you need help just leave a question in the Comments area.
Injury Time: Yoshi Breaks Finger
The evolutionary tale of Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi is an interesting footnote in the history of the current JapanNT members. It is a well-known fact that until recent years, he was a football-only health fiend. Every mistake took on the weight of the world, and every gram of weight he put on was kawaguchi.jpgsomething to be worked off by missing dinner and exercising instead. It was said that he used to have an aura of unapproachability by his teammates, and if you ever wanted to locate him the best place to look was near the scale. There is a legendary video tape that sometimes gets replayed during profile clips on Kawaguchi where you see him throwing the biggest fit after a game and has to be calmed and escorted to a room by staff. His anger and frustration are always toward himself, and I suppose he was trying to work himself up to a standard of perfection by a form of self-flagellation.[cont'd]
It's Been 12 Days
since the WC qualifier game against North Korea. This was probably the number one topic on all Japanese blogs in the last couple weeks, but given the time lapse, I think I'll avoid doing any lump analysis on that game just now. Will probably trickle a number of shorter entries regarding various themes that left an impression on me as the week goes by. The funny thing is, every few days, I awake with a different "take" on that game. And I realize that in the end the only true thing is the final score and a lingering feeling of worry mixed with a handful of hope and pride.

The one thing I have to say about the JapanNT is that they sure have a way of ending up in the most difficult and destiny-tinged match-ups. Carrying over from the last round of qualifiers, the Asia Cup group teams included Iran and Oman, the knockout stages included Bahrain, and the final clash against ChinaNT (and the population of China, it seemed) in Peking. Now grouped with North Korea, Iran, and Bahrain. Iran and Bahrain of course being in the top 4 at Asia Cup, and containing AFC player of the Year and Asia Cup Golden Boot winner. If that's not enough, Japan will have to face Brazil's Selecao, Zico's love, and Greece, Euro winners, at the Confederation's Cup.

I have a feeling that this year is going to make the harrowing adventures of last year seem like a walk in the park. Is your heart ready?

31 days til Iran.
Can Tulio Stop Ronaldinho?
tulio.jpgIt's been announced that Urawa Red Diamonds will match up against none other than FC Barcelona on June 11 or 12 of this year. For Japanese football fans, this will be quite the decadent match-up, perhaps more than enough compensation if we don't make it to the Toyota Cup World Club Championships (knock on wood). Looking at the scheduling, the NT will just have finished up their 4th&5th game in the WC qualifiers and preparing for the Confederations Cup that begins on June 15.

Thinking back to last year, Barcelona's arrival in Japan was overshadowed by Real Madrid's possie of stars. Personally I could have done without all the marketing mayhem, but I suppose that was their only real reason for being here...

June is chock full. I don't know about anyone else, but personally I'd like to take that whole month off please!
Can't Help But Chant "Vamos Nippon"
fan.jpgThe rocked-up version of VamosNippon supporters' song for the JapanNT. As simple as it is, it is a classic, and this version from (click)Reservoir Records had me head-bopping from the get-go. (look at the lower right corner of the rectangle, and there is "player" where you can press play or skip to next song. Song 2 is VamosNippon)

By the way, there is an interesting debate among the Nippon supporters regarding the song Genghiskhan (Song 1 of the above link to Reservoir Records) which has been chanted during the NT games recently. I'm not sure exactly how these songs get chosen in the first place, but I do have a problem with people who say "it's too silly for the seriousness of NT games, especially qualifiers". Let's admit it, all the songs are pretty silly. It's just how you associate with the song that affects how appropriate you think it is. I mean, the other oft-heard song is based on "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin... I used to play this ragtime dandy on the piano as a little girl, and now people are singing it to root on eleven sweaty men with well-developed calf muscles to national glory. Of course, if I hear it enough, I'll sing it. I'll admit it. Last week I couldn't get out of humming "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and nearly slit my wrists trying to get the horrible yodle-ing out of my brain.
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