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Japan Football: Zaccheroni, Samurai Blue, and general J chatter
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7 days...
Put on your seatbelts, have your stomach medicine ready, expect the worst and hope for the best. This is pretty much what I chant to myself ahead of an NT for-real match. And seven days to go until Iran.

What is it about football, national teams, and world cup qualifiers, that seems to bring out the jinx monkey? You think you've thought of all that can go wrong (within some reason), but then something new pops up.

Yesterday, I saw brief footage of the team (well, 16 players plus coach and staff) at Narita preparing for their departure for Frankfurt training camp. It was a spot of sunshine to see them all together, wearing what appeared to be new suits (black stripe on black suit, and the tie has a modern dark blue&light grey design that resembles a football hexagon pattern), getting on their specially painted charter plane (see article). This plane is going to be used to ferry the NT, journalists and supporters around the world for the next year or so. This will allow the team to travel without ticketing problems and unnecessary stop-overs. The outside has a large painting of a player wearing the uniform, kicking a ball, with the message "Gambare Soccer Nihon Daihyo" (see photo). The last time the JFA arranged for a charter plane was during the WC98 qualifiers, eight years ago. The remaining players will join the camp within the next several days -- Nakazawa will return to Japan to check his injuries, after which it will be decided whether he will be able to play or not. (photo from

Unfortunately, along with the good news that the team touched down in Frankfurt without incident yesterday came the bad news: Following the injuries to Kawaguchi, Nakazawa, Matsuda, Endo, Nakamura (who got hacked by Iran NT/Messina defender Lezai in Reggina's last match; one can only speculate whether it was "intended"; Lezai is the Iran player who was involved in the slapping incident during Asia Cup 04), Suzuki who felt a flare-up in his ankle during practice this week; Ogasawara just had a minor operation to have his wisdom teeth pulled; and Fio's reluctance to let Hide Nakata join the NT prior to the mandatory 96 hours...

...Now it is Feyenoord and Shinji Ono. Ono had an operation to his right foot at the end of last year. The message from Feye seems to be that they do not want to send Ono off to games where he could re-injure it especially while he is still healing. Of course, Feye started him in the last game against Roda where there was another injury scare after being tackled (he got subbed out at 85 min), and that could be part of the worry. They said it would be irresponsible for the JFA to use him in next week's games. Last year, there was a lot of tension between Feye and the JFA regarding Ono's release to join the U23 Olympics squad. For Ono, who had missed the Olympics in 2000 due to injury, it was particularly distressing to contemplate missing it again. On his website, he shared that the tension and anxiety of being put in the middle of it all with no control over the outcome gave him stomach pains. Feye is very careful about Ono, who does tend to get injured often. And Feye have it in their heads that Ono always comes back from NT games carrying injury. However, keeping him from playing two crucial world cup qualifier games for his country... well, I'm not sure that locking him up in a cushioned room is exactly going to do wonders for him mentally and emotionally. He has not played with the NT since last October's Oman game in Muscat. This round, with most of the Euro-based players joining in, would be a big deal to miss.

It's true, these matches against Asian teams are especially brutal -- and away matches are particularly rough. There is no guarantee that any of players will not be hurt. Last year we saw half the starting line-up for Japan go out. But I guess that's what a "team" is all about -- if Feyenoord ends up getting their way, it would be quite disappointing (to put it mildly) for everyone. It is not unreasonable to deduce the general attitude of Euro-clubs that "Asia matches/teams are not that important". Not only have Feye made their point clear, similar attitudes were seen among Nakamura's Reggina teammates in past years, and the recent tactics used by Fiorentina and Marseille (in their strategy to acquire Koji Nakata without a transfer fee). Perhaps it is difficult to see from the outside looking in, but Japan is in a very precarious position right now. The JFA will have to try and negotiate their way around these problems; these experiences now will provide valuable groundwork for the future management of the team.

Seriously, we could do with fewer problems... but alas this is part of the beast that is the Qualifiers. Our spirit is with you, Nippon. [japan football soccer national j-league zico]
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