Football (Japan) Lost In Translation . . . Relaunched 2012!
Japan Football: Zaccheroni, Samurai Blue, and general J chatter
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Culture Shock
The World Cup Qualifiers, particularly in Asia, is an interesting vehicle through which to observe different cultures. Last year's qualifier game in Kolkata India taught me many new things about the state of Indian football and fans. Even though I had lived there for years as a child it was the first time I thought of it in the context of football.

Love To Death?
The overwhelming interest in this upcoming game between Japan and Iran has truly brought out the masses of press and football fans. From the airport to the training grounds, the JapanNT has pretty much been mobbed. Part of the problem is the lax security preparations provided to the team. After the practice, Zico and various players were essentially carried out to the bus on a crushing wave of mauling arms, kisses, and demands for autographs and souvenirs. It is an added stress on the team, and Iran management should have extended the courtesy of seeing that they were at least not physically harmed. Not that any harm was intended -- just that the overwhelming fervor with which they express their excitement for the game is quite different from anything we've seen visiting other countries. Press people have also been the focus of crowd interest -- some Japanese news people have been surrounded by a hundred curious fans who wanted to see what was inside their bags, who they thought would win the game, etc. There have been reports that some media people have had rocks thrown at them, but on the whole it seems that the energy is pure enthusiasm, unchanneled pre-game excitement, and curiosity.

Which sort of makes me wonder why Iran's football association has not better organized the ticketing system for the game. The price for tickets are something like 50yen, and in some articles I've read that upper balcony seats have become free. Making tickets free in a country where there are more than plenty of enthusiastic football fans seems to be asking for trouble. People who can't get in due to capacity will feel that they have been "robbed" of their right to watch the game. In the past, there have been problems like this, where over twenty thousand people who couldn't get in basically pushed themselves into the stadium. Hundreds of people had to spill over onto the pitch, and utter chaos ensued. Firecrackers, rocks, dead animals, etc., have been thrown onto the pitch in the past. This being such an important match for Iran, the football association should make sure no problems like this arise, particularly when thinking of the safety of the players (which include a big chunk of Asia's superstars).

Iran Confidential
The IranNT, on the other hand, have kept their training sessions closed to outsiders. I was surprised to hear that Iran would do so, given that they are in an advantageous position at home. Zico does not believe in closing any session (this has been his philosophy since he took the reins) , and though it leaves the team vulnerable to "spies" I honestly believe that a team cannot build mental strength and focus at the top class level without being able to show results despite being analyzed and having distracting spectators -- certainly if you consider the future pressure of playing in the spotlight at the World Cup. Though Iran coach and players have alluded slyly to some "secret strategy that would take advantage of Japan's weak points", I am a bit disappointed in Iran for not doing things in the open -- it would have been cool to see "two top teams with nothing to hide".

NT Update
The hot topic of today's news seems to be the conflict of opinion between Hide Nakata and defensive midfielder Takashi Fukunishi in yesterday's practice. The differences of opinion revolved around defensive responsibilities in a particular situation. Last year, before Nakata dropped out to injury, the main troublespot for the NT was the lack of assertion among the Japan-based players particularly when dealing with Nakata. Some of it had to do with confidence, some of it had to do with Nakata's international status and the unwavering trust Zico had in him. It used to be "Nakata's JapanNT".

However, after the ordeals and accomplishments of this past year, the team (particularly the Japan-based players) have developed a strong sense of responsibility and confidence -- this is now "the Team's team". The fact that Fukunishi, Akira Kaji and the other defensive players asserted their own opinions about what they thought they should do (not just giving in to Nakata's wishes like previously) reflects a valuable growth. The responsibility for the team, therefore, is no longer Nakata's alone -- and I hope this point in particular makes it into Nakata's head. He was frustrated last year because the team never fought back or questioned him on anything. And now they are. Despite the tension that these debates bring, airing things out in the open is much better than letting things stew belowground unaddressed. Nakata has a tendency to be bossy verbally, whereas Nakamura suggests ideas through his play -- the right and left "brains" of ZicoJapan lead in different ways. It will be up to Tsuneyasu Miyamoto to organize the team's thoughts and bring it to Zico's attention.

As important as these "arguments" are to the growth of the team, I'd also like to see Nakata step back a little and observe how other players communicate with each other. This team has gone through a lot of stressful situations together and I believe they have found a good wavelength in which they exchange opposing views and solve problems. If he can pick up on some of that, it may help him understand the team better and get his own opinions across.

From Frying Pan Into Fire
As for reports on Nakata's performance (since he is the big risk factor), it did not look too good during yesterday's practice. Various media sources have said he looked heavy-footed, lost the ball frequently, made unbelievable mistakes and lacked smooth passing with teammates. He ended up destroying the tempo of their attack. It is understandable that he is not perfect, considering his long absence from the team; however if he is truly not ready to play in this crucial game, he should be the first to recognize his limits and speak up if that's the case. At least wait until the Bahrain game. If not him, then I hope Zico looks realistically at what is best for the entire team. Since I can't watch the practices myself, I cannot honestly say what is better or worse.
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