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Fukuoka Training Camp Day 5
Two days of the domestic training camp remain before the Japan National Team heads to Bonn, Germany.

The dominant theme of the domestic training camp has been fitness and conditioning. With the players from Europe and J-league at different fitness levels, the most important thing was for everyone to be building up a good foundation.

At this point in the training week, the players' fatigue levels are at their first peak. But the comments I've read indicate that it's a healthy satisfying kind of tiredness and muscle soreness.

Morning: Mini-Game

Yesterday (Monday), the team trained in the usual morning and afternoon sessions. In the morning, the team was divided into starters and substitutes to form two teams -- and proceeded to use a section of the field to play a 10-on-10 minigame. The players had not played in so long that the main aim was for everyone to get used to the ball again, and also to get a little sense of game-rhythm back.

Afternoon: Practice Game

In the afternoon, the team had their first practice game. The usual huge crowd of spectators were there (though the numbers were held back to a reported ten thousand). The opponents were a local high school team.

Theme: Hot Potato

The goal of this days' game was to move the ball fast. Though Zico Japan's style is to keep possession and pass the ball around, against organized strong opponents, this tends to end in a lot of sideways and back passing. The aim in this game was for all the players to receive and pass the ball on in a matter of one or two touches -- it calls for focus, good support movement, and creativity, especially at this time when the mind and body are tired. It will be important for the team to be able to change their speed levels during the course of the game, and one-touch passing is particularly effective when the opponents are aggressive in their defensive pressure.


The starting formation was 3-5-2, FW: Yanagisawa and Takahara, Nakamura behind, Hide and Fukunishi in front of the defense line, with Alex and Kaji on the sides, and Nakazawa, Miyamoto, Tsuboi defending. GK Kawaguchi. Substitutes: Oguro, Maki, Ono, Inamoto, Komano, Koji Nakata, and Narazaki and Doi. Defender Tanaka was out of practice the day before due to a strain, so Tsuboi took the starting position from him. And Tamada alerted the doctor to some pain in his foot during the morning practice and went to get xrays (the results show that there don't seem to be any broken bones, but no further info).

Overall, it was a beneficial practice game. The players promised each other to stick to the theme of the day -- to move the ball fast and move fast themselves. In terms of game-making, it was evident Hide and Nakamura were the creative ones.

Kaji Shines

But everyone mentioned how Kaji stood out in his energy and assertiveness, running up and down the length of the right side, creating a chunk of the chances. After the game, Nakamura spent a lot of time commenting on Kaji, and how effective he was that day. Nakamura commented that he saw a host of new possibilities with Kaji's performance that day, and hoped to be able to use Santos on the left as well to balance out the attack. It was ironic, because Japan usually depends much more on Santos on the left to help create the game. Santos has I believe the second highest assist rate. But in this game, perhaps because Santos was still recovering from the small knee injury or perhaps because Kaji stood out so much, strangely lacked presence. In terms of the team, though, this is very good news, because opponents in the past have formed their defensive strategy around locking down Santos. But if the midfielders can confidently call on Kaji, or make wide use of both sides, it will be that much harder for opponents to concentrate their defense.

Yanagisawa On His Feet

It was the first time Yanagisawa had played in a proper game since he broke his foot bone, and many were anxious to see how much he's recovered. Yana's game-legs still seem to be off a little, in terms of his finishing -- he missed a few good chances; but he also made one very good trap and volley shot. However, he has clearly not lost his sense of movement. Yana is a very clever space-maker, and with his movements he confuses the defense and gives his teammates more passing options. Takahara got three goals (Maki, who played in the second half also got three), so it was also good to see that the two people who got three goals each were actually forwards.

Second Half

The second half saw a complete member change. The remaining players went on, and a staff and one of the highschoolers filled in as defenders in a 4-4-2 system. Ogasawara and Ono were behind forwards Oguro and Maki, and Inamoto and Endo and the defenders (Koji on left, Komano on right).

The Skeleton Key?

From what I saw of the game, Ogasawara mixed very well with the forwards, and switched positions with Maki and Oguro by overtaking their position or dropping back as the needs of the game dictated. I am certain that opponent countries will make sure to mark Hide or Nakamura, and I believe Ogasawara will be a key player in terms of creating the game. There is such a quietness and self-containment about his demeanor that oftentimes people are caught off guard by the choices he makes. He may not have the creaminess of Nakamura, or the exuding presence of Hide, but he will be an important go-to guy should these other two get bogged down by marks.


There is still a lot of time until the first match against Australia, so the above game was purely a venue in which the players could start getting accustomed to each other and their style, get their game brain back, etc. It was also weird to have so many people watching this pratice game (more people were watching than at some J-league games!), and some players commented afterwards that there was something surreal about it -- being used to training in relatively privacy.

Overall, it was a good day for the players to begin thinking about what they need to work on as a team and as individuals. The players are demanding a lot from each other, and there was a lot of quick one-touch plays both through the middle and from the sides.


The defense was not that threatened in this game, so it was not great defensive practice. But the team ignored the fact that they were playing a high school team and kept their defensive strategy, even though in a way it wasn't that necessary. In particular, the defense line and the defensive midfielders have been making clear instructions to each other in terms of coverage and timing of offensive participation. This day, Fukunishi was particularly careful about maintaining his position as balancer in the midfield -- so that the defense line was not left stranded too much.

There is still work to be done on the timing of the run-ups by the defensive midfielders like Hide and Fukunishi. In this day's game, the high school team found themselves able to exploit this. The problem being that like I said the defenders could be left stranded with a gaping hole between themselves and an offense-minded midfield. The answer lies in the ability of the players to communicate their opinions on what is best, and have some basic ground rules in place. Hide is particularly keen on going forward when Japan has possession, and this leads to trouble if we lose the ball and fall victim to a quick counter attack. It is not a new problem -- obviously, in this day and age, football has become about scoring through multiple players, especially use of midfielders up front in overlapping sequences. But a small adjustment problem during a WC game could be the difference between going through to the next round or not. It will be important for the team to be able to organize quickly in those instances, instead of scrambling.

The team still needs to work on defensive organization, timing their pressure and marking zones, etc. The team places significance on balance and coverage, but those things can only be tested during proper matches against strong opponents -- the friendly agaisnt Germany will be the only true rehearsal in terms of defense.
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