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A Star Is Born: Masashi Oguro
It's truly amazing what one goal in an NT game can do for your career as a Japanese football player. The ballet-like tippy-toe goal from Takayuki Suzuki in the 2002 World Cup game against Belgium (Japan was behind 0-1) helped him get a contract in Europe with a, what else?, Belgium club team; Atushi Yanagisawa's impressive goal against Italy in 2001 helped him get a contract in Italy.

For Masashi Oguro's goal against North Korea in this month's qualifier, I doubt he'll be getting any such recognition from a foreign club; however his position in the Japanese media has certainly risen to the top. Not particularly charismatic or attractive like many Japanese forwards of the NT, he hadn't gotten the recognition that perhaps he should have after last year's laudable performance scoring the second-most goals in the J.League. Many people wondered why Zico had not called him to the NT... CONT'D
At the beginning of the year, as the NT got together for training camp, Kubo could not show up because his back pain was still giving trouble. Oguro was called instead. He got his first shot subbing in the Kazakhstan game at the end of January, and substituted in during the second half of the North Korea qualifier. And in injury time, with Japan even with North Korea, Oguro took great positioning and twirled a low grounder to score the much-needed goal for Japan's 3 points. Overnight, he became a sensation in the mainstream media and sports news.

Last year I read an interview given by Oguro in Number magazine. In it, he was asked about his feelings regarding the NT. It was interesting to read how nonchalant he was regarding his chances on the NT. He even went as far as saying that when he played against players from the NT, he did not really see a big difference between them and all the other J.Leaguers. At that point, I think it was a risky comment to make; however, perhaps it was indicative of something else.

I recently saw an interview clip taken before he was called up to the NT. In it, he indicated his belief that while Zico was coach, he felt he was not going to be called up. Perhaps it was the frustration of scoring so many goals and being ignored by the NT. Perhaps it was his lack of experience playing at the forefront of the JLeague (until last year, he was practically unknown). Perhaps he was trying to convince himself not to get his hopes up.

The son of a boxer and marathon runner, Oguro obviously has some genetic advantage as an athlete. His experience had so far been restricted to the Gamba club (first as Gamba Youth and now in the J1 team). Since he did not show high-quality play until recently, he missed out playing for the National Youth/Olympic teams, and consequently missed out on experiences at an international level. Many articles have sought out the origins of his relatively sudden climb to the top. One main characteristic seems to arise.

Oguro has successfully sought out information and put it to good use in his training and play. Physically, he modified his workouts and included new methods after reading books about the training practices of famous players in Europe. He also made a point to collect video clips and made a dvd compilation out of them. The scenes he used were by European club stars, and the dvd travels with him as he prepares for games. He studies the scenes, not only taking note of the goals, but also looking at the way the forwards moved, creating space and increasing the chances of a successful shot. On top of the information he gained from books and video, Oguro had also made an effort to avoid tensing up when taking a shot. He claims that all his goals from last season resulted from being relaxed when making contact with the ball.

Even during the NT training camp this January, Oguro continued to gain information by observation. Zico had been playing a game after practice one day, where the point was to kick so the ball bounced off the post. Oguro apparently stayed to watch Zico until he finished, sometimes crouching low on the ground from different angles to see exactly what portion of the foot Zico used. I guess we take for granted that the Zico is coaching the NT. But probably the most useful contribution Zico can make to the players on the NT is his technical know-how and personal experience. I'm glad that Oguro took that opportunity to gain new insight, as this seems to be working for him.

After the North Korea game, the suits from the JFA visited the Gamba club and coach to thank them for releasing Oguro for training at the last minute. Apparently the coach was worried about Oguro's condition, the sudden call-up not allowing Oguro to prepare himself properly. The coach was also worried about the potential for disaster if Oguro was used in a game and ended up failing horribly, especially as the JLeague season was starting and Oguro was a big part of their plan for success. The Gamba Osaka team also includes two other NT players Miyamoto and Endo. If Oguro continues to get called up to the NT this year, Gamba will have the same headache that Kashima Antlers, Yokohama Marinos and Jubilo Iwata have of losing their star players for over 100 days out of the year.

The competition for the NT starting forwards slot has really increased during this past year. It's an eclectic group that Oguro is joining. Will he start against Iran?[japan football soccer national j-league]
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