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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
Strangely enough, Nakazawa had a very difficult time getting a job as a professional football player when he left school. The story goes that nakabahrain.jpgNakazawa spent a year pulling different jobs and saved enough money for a ticket to Brazil. There, he played in a 2nd division club,FC America, for a year. It was not an easy time for him, as he struggled with the language barrier and faced discrimination. When he got back to Japan, he sent letters to all the clubs with a description of his experiences in Brazil. All he wanted was a chance to show them what he could do, but was given a trial run as a trainee only by Tokyo Verdy. His first year, he won the J.League Best New Player award in 1999. Last year, he won the MVP.

Now, Nakazawa plays alongside Naoki Matsuda (another powerhouse centerback of the NT) in the Champion club team Yokohama Marinos. What makes him such an all-round threat is his obvious height and power that can match any foreign player, and his origins as a forward. With Japan's high quality dead ball kickers, Nakazawa's point-getting ability and height prove to be a huge asset to the team when looking for goals. Despite his wild look, he has technique to follow through on his power.

As Nakazawa has etched his name into the starting member roster, he has not forgotten his roots as a long-time member of the bench. He is sensitive to their situation and is genuinely grateful for their good spirit and support even when they haven't had the chance to play. In the Asia Cup Semifinal against Bahrain, Nakazawa headed in a injury-time equalizer to take Japan into extended time (which Japan won). Nakazawa's first action was to point to his teammates on the bench, and then he pointed to Kawaguchi who saved the team from elimination during a nailbiting penalty shoot-out against Jordan in the quaterfinals where Nakazawa missed a penalty kick. The goal is for the team, he seems to be saying.

One of the interesting tasks that Nakazawa has is to be the perfect partner to essentially two very different defense leaders. On the National Team, Nakazawa is in a 3-back left position, and has to gauge and balance with Miyamoto's movements as a sweeper-type intellectual captain. In Marinos, he pairs up with Matsuda as centerbacks. Matsuda is an extremely attack-oriented centerback and tends to get a little carried away in his desire to move forward. With the NT able to play both 3- and 4-back positions, the personal experience Nakazawa has with both Miyamoto and Matsuda should hopefully ensure a smooth conversion if one were to take place in the future.

In this month's game against North Korea, Nakazawa witnessed Miyamoto's irritation building as the referee made one bad call after another. He shared in an interview that he saw what was happening and had to make a concerted effort to keep his own irritation in check. Towards the end of the game, as the score stalled at 1-1, Miyamoto had to make a decision for the the team to accept at least the draw. Given that it was only the first game of six, the risk of allowing Nakazawa to go forward (which he desperately wanted to) and help with the offense would have been too great given the 2-back defense line.

In a recent interviews I read, Nakazawa disclosed that after last year he sees himself growing more aware of his teammates. Before, he said, all he could worry about was himself. During the first NT training camp this year, Nakazawa said that he noticed himself naturally reaching out to new members and thinking of ways to keep the spirit up and helping newcomers feel welcome. Perhaps this change in Nakazawa was noticed by Zico, as he handed the Captain's band to Nakazawa for the first time in this year's friendly against Kazakhstan. Of the experience, Nakazawa said that he would preferably not be captain (laugh). He also said he couldn't get the hang of the protocol before the game. After introducing his teammates to the head of JFA, he got a few "we know each other, silly, try the other team" comments from them. 

This is one player that I'd wish to have on the NT for a very long time. I wish him a very happy birthday, and I hope this year (and next!) will prove to be stellar years for him.
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