Football (Japan) Lost In Translation . . . Relaunched 2012!
Japan Football: Zaccheroni, Samurai Blue, and general J chatter
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JOMO All-Stars Clash with International Friendlies
The tug-of-war between clubs and national team priorities has been a regular hurdle for many of the football associations across the world. Japanese football only started to deal with these schedule and logistical problems in recent years. We all know the debate: there is immense expectation for the national team to get results and play exciting football, but the clubs complain their players are fatigued and return with injuries from international matches, and the Japanese clubs have to squeeze their league season in while side-stepping a crowded international calendar.

The Japan Football Association had negotatiated this year's schedule so that domestic league and international games did not overlap. But another wrinkle has popped up.

The promotional fireworks are gearing up for the fourth annual JOMO All-Stars Game which kicks-off on October 9. Fans select the players they most want to see by clicking in their votes on the official internet website. All good -- except that the JFA has just planned a two-game East-European tour for the national team during that same week -- friendlies with the Ukraine and Latvia on October 8th and 12th.

Kazuki Sasaki, director and general secretary of the J-league, had indicated earlier in the week that some sort of understanding had been reached with the JFA giving JOMO All-Stars precedence over any national team call-ups. However, JFA chairman Saburo Kawabuchi responded by saying that it would be meaningless if national team manager Zico were not able to call up the players he felt he needed.

Both sides have a right to their objections. With Germany 2006 just over the horizon, Japan does not have the luxury of wasting any international friendly that tests them against a world standard. But the J-league is especially sensitive here because the point of the All-Stars is that fans get to decide, and many of the crowd favorites are understandably regular members of the national team. The JOMO also plays an important role in the expansion of football in Japan by bringing glamour and excitement to football-anemic regions. In the past, the JOMO has brought the stars of the J to Saitama, Niigata and Sapporo; this year it's Oita. Taking many of the top national stars from the all-star mix will decrease the level of interest in the event.

This scheduling conflict will inevitably place the burden of choice on the fans. Now that we are aware of the scheduling conflict, it is impossible for the fans to vote without mixed feelings. Should they avoid submitting names of regular members of the national team for fear of undermining the national team's limited occasions to play together? Should they even avoid submitting names of players they hope might have a chance at a call-up? Should they hold off voting until they know how this problem will be handled?

The players must also be quelling conflicting desires. The biggest star to emerge from the domestic league in the past year, Gamba Osaka forward Masashi Oguro, has commented that he'd like to be called up to the national team for these matches. "I'd like to experience and see how Shevchenko plays", he said to Daily Sports. With an emphatic performance in both Gamba and the national team this year, his absence from either event will be significant.

Zico is not expected to return to Japan until the latter half of July, when he will be calling up the members for the East Asian Cup beginning July 30 in Korea. The JFA may need to ring him up sooner than that and hear what he has to say about this situation.
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