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Japan Football: Zaccheroni, Samurai Blue, and general J chatter
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Camp Chronicles: Training for vs. Oman
It's been an intense week with the Samurai Blue as they continued preparations for the start of the Final Qualifying Round game. The first half of the week was dedicated to physical conditioning of the players. Zaccheroni insisted on gathering the European players early to camp in order to get their bodies back on track during this post-season period. J-league players had games last Saturday and joined the squad training on Day 4, while Gamba Osaka players staggered in a couple days later after the Asian Champions League group game.

The latter half of the week was primarily focused on strategy -- particularly Oman-specific tactics. Though Zaccheroni allowed for the first 15 minutes of training to be open to media, cameras and reporters were shut out of the remainder.

Oman arrived in Japan under the poker-faced management of French coach Paul Le Guen. As you may know, he was the coach in charge of Cameroon during the 2010 World Cup, where Japan played Cameroon in the first match of the group games and had a surprise victory over the African giants 1-0. Japanese media aired segments on the Oman team leading up to the game, focusing on profiling national hero and Premier League Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.

What struck me about Al Habsi as I watched his interviews was not only his skill as a player, but his natural charisma and charm. Truly a classy player. (He and Ryo Miyaichi, who has been on-loan to Bolton from Arsenal, are very well-acquainted with each other. Ryo lives across the street from Al Habsi and his wife in England, and the couple look after Ryo by inviting him over for dinner frequently.)

May 28: Video of Oman players arriving, Japan training

May 29: Video of training and Endo interview

June 1: Video of training, Oman profile (Al Habsi), Close-up interview of Nagatomo

June 2: Video--Squad moves to Saitama stadium for final training

The long week together being confined within the walls of the hotel does have its down-side as the players begin to get antsy. Certain members of the squad have made it a habit to take strolls around their hotel/facilities whether in Japan or abroad. This video, taken by Kawaguchi on his mobile during their walk (May 31), shows Yoshida goofing with the child-sized slide, Maeda, and Miyaichi. After being confined for a week, Hasebe decided to join them for the first time -- he shares this photo on his blog of their stroll to a shopping center to hang out at a cafe.
Hasebe takes photo of Kawaguchi, Uchida, Yoshida, Miyaichi, Maeda during one of their walks

Zaccheroni commented during the pre-match press conference that he did notice some nerves among the squad members that day. When asked to expand, he said that though the players usually chat and play around with each other after their meals, he noticed the players were quieter that day and everyone headed straight for their rooms after eating. This must have made an impression on the Italian, who had been quite strict throughout the week with regard to the importance of switching mental gear to "fighting mode". To allay some of those nerves, the final day training was kept less-intense and light in mood.


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Extra:
A Japan supporter who attended last week's game against Azerbaijan took footage of the Japan bench throughout the game as players were substituted out. His edit was quite fun -- like a reversal of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. >>Watch video
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