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World Youth Championships
I don't know if anyone who reads this blog is aware of this, but the 2005 World Youth Championships is currently kicking off in the Netherlands. Japan's U-20 team is in the same group as host Netherlands, Benin and Australia. There are 24 teams total. It has been difficult keeping track of the youth games this past year, and frankly I don't know much about the team (only that I don't like the coach). But I did want to mention it in case anyone reading may want to check out the site. Watching these youth teams can be refreshing, as they are different in personality from the National Team of the same country and you get a glimpse of some 18-19 year olds with potential. In Japan, for instance, the youth team's stars are all forwards (Cullen, Jubilo Iwata; Morimoto, Tokyo Verdy; Hirayama, university). Other familiar names include Masushima of FCTokyo and Honda of Nagoya Grampus. I won't comment on whether they are any good, because I've watched only a few of their games. Plus a number of players were switched around just before the Championship began so anything I saw previously may not give me an accurate sense of how they will perform in the Netherlands. They have a tough job to do as the bar was set high by the 1999 Nigeria World Youth Championship Japan U-20 team:

"The sensations of Nigeria '99, however, were the team from Japan, coached by Frenchman Philippe Troussier. The Asian side waltzed their way to the final, ousting England, Portugal, Mexico (who beat holders Argentina) and Uruguay en route. Led by the two gems in their side, Masashi Motayama and captain Shinji Ono, the young Japanese played excellent football throughout, with the exception of the Final, when fatigue clearly took its toll. Japan's second-place finish was nonetheless the best by an Asian side since Qatar finished runners-up in 1981." -- excerpt from review

Some of the members from this 20-player 1999 roster who are in or near the NT today include Junichi Inamoto, Yasuhito Endo, Mitsuo Ogasawara, Koji Nakata, Akira Kaji, Naohiro Takahara, and Hitoshi Sogahata(gk), plus Shinji Ono and Masashi Motoyama as mentioned above.

These are big shoes to fill, but the 2001 Japan U-20 team and the 2003 U-20 team didn't make it past the group stages.

Yesterday/today (depending on your time zone), the U-20 team played the first game against the Netherlands (ouch, that's a tough game to play on the first day!). Japan 1 - 2 Netherlands. I caught a glimpse of the game, and the overall impression is that the Japan team looked out-classed by the Dutch. Power, speed, technique, accuracy on shot, mental strength -- they just didn't compete. However, Japan created enough opportunities to clinch at least a draw, if they had just capitalized on a number of perfect opportunities.
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