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Fukushima Training Camp Day 6 & 7
The Japan National World Cup Squad finished up their week-long domestic training held at J-Village in Fukushima yesterday.

Day 6

060524-6.jpg

The squad assembled for the morning session for workout and shooting drills. Zico, who had been telling the players to speak up if they felt unnatural strain or pain, felt it would be beneficial to let the players rest alittle -- he cancelled the afternoon session.

Day 7

The highlight of this day's training was another practice game. The opponents were a local high school team (a different one from Monday). The starting lineup was the same as in the previous practice game, in a 3-5-2 system: Takahara, Yanagisawa, Nakamura, Kaji, Santos, Hide Nakata, Fukunishi, Miyamoto, Nakazawa, Tsuboi, Kawaguchi. GK Narazaki guarded the goal for the opponent team.

In the previous game, the theme was "keep the ball moving". Holding the ball too long would increase the danger of getting swarmed by the opponent and losing the ball, so the players went into the game agreeing to not stop the ball during the build up.

In this day's practice game, the theme was "initiate a fast attack after a stable defense". The emphasis was placed by the defensive half of the team -- to avoid getting caught up by pressure from the opponent forwards/attackers. This counter-attack theme was obviously not necessary against a much weaker opponent like a high school team, but in the context of training the players felt it was a valuable weapon to have in a World Cup situation.

The origin of the attacks came from the defenders and the defensive midfielders like Hide and Fukunishi, and the attack sequences used the sides widely to create good opportunities. In the last six months or so we have been seeing a much better effort from the defenders with regard to participating in an effective attack process. We've seen appropriate run-ups by Nakazawa and Miyamoto, and better feeds sent from the back. It will be important for the defenders to read the game, and understand when it is better to prioritize safety (and clear the ball) and when it is worth the risk to connect passes, and when to be alert for good counter-attack chances. Japanese players are fast, and our forwards are especially good at timing their breaks through the defensive line.

Of course, we are a midfield-oriented team, but the style of Zico Japan is to be flexible and creative, and most of all, intelligent. It would be silly to stubbornly stick to midfield-only creation if the opponent is effectively crushing us with fast pressure in midfield.

Someone asked me what the scores were in these practice games. In the previous practice game the final score was 12-0 (7-0 from first half starting group, 5-0 from second half bench group). In this second game, the score was 22-0 (10-0 first, 12-0 second). What has been really good to hear is that the forwards are scoring -- Takahara scored 8 total, Maki scored 3 in the first game, Oguro scored 6 in the second game, and Yanagisawa scored 3 total with a number of assists).

Zico has been spending a whopping amount of practice time on shooting drills, and the players are aware that this is a message to them that all their training and hard work will end in disappointment unless they score goals.

060522-3.jpgThe group was released home, and the training camp ended yesterday. Today, everyone will go about spending time with their family and friends. Tomorrow, everyone will be boarding the plane for Germany. This Day 7 is the last time we are seeing the team train on Japanese soil. The crowds were huge, and the players went out of their way to acknowledge the support. The overarching theme of the week was building fitness. But we also saw the team bond strengthen, some good chemistry during games, and my general impression is that the players look really good -- healthy, relaxed, but also alert. In Germany, we will be seeing more opponent-specific strategy.


Bonn e Youkoso

bonn_flag.jpgBonn has been making preparations to welcome the Japan team (and all the Japan fans) to their city -- photo of flags are at the Japan camp in Bonn. Very few locals seem to be aware that their city will be headquarters for the Japan side, but that will inevitably change when they start seeing an inordinate number of Asian people milling about. How do you say, "Where are all these Asian people coming from?" in German....? ;)

Dogs Love Germany

Germany is a dog-loving country, and that's good news for the two Japanese canines heading there to support their squad at the World Cup. Ronmel, a dachsund so he's originally from Germany!, and Rao, forward Oguro's devoted chihuahua, have packed their suitcases. Ronmel, as you may remember from >>this past entry, is supposedly our Good Luck Mascot. In the past 18 national team games he's attended, the Japan team has not lost one game. With so much at stake, can you blame us for becoming superstitious and silly?! ;)

Okay, so that is the news for now -- I will come back tonight and tomorrow to fill in the individual profile info on the squad members. If you have little bits of info you know that you'd like to share about one or more of the players, leave a comment, and I'll put it in! I obviously don't know every player equally, so I'd appreciate your input, and share it with all our visitors.
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