Posted by: MOIST | June 9, 2010

Japan: The Preview

Whilst many Koreans would be more than happy to disagree with me, Japan has arguably the strongest league in Asia and so you’d expect them to be the regional powerhouses. For some reason though they always manage to do things the hard way and recently under Takeshi Okada they have mostly dispensed with the hard way and gone straight to plain old buggering up. He wasn’t the most popular choice back in 2007 when he replaced Ivica Osim and, although Japan qualified fairly comfortably for the finals, a series of lacklustre displays didn’t exactly endear him to the press or the fans.

What do they know, though? He won two J-League titles with the F-Marinos and could easily pass as a loveable but slightly pedantic school teacher. That smacks of legend in my book.

But what of his squad? Do they have the quality to get out of a tough group containing the Netherlands, Denmark and Cameroon? Unless you are a fan of the J-League or happen to be a Portsmouth supporter it is unlikely you have heard of most of the Japan squad. Only four of them play outside of Japan although another four have experience of playing in Europe. This lack of exposure to playing in foreign climes could prove to be their achilles heel again a la blowing a 1-0 lead against the Aussies in 2006 but skill wise they have the ability to play and could cause problems as England almost found to their cost in Austria.

Realistically, though, what chance do they have of picking up points in a strong group? Considering their performance in the warm up games (loss, loss, loss, loss if memory serves) it is tempting to say they’ll lose them all and be home for dinner. It’s unlikely they’ll get anything against the Netherlands so they’ll need to be looking to pick up 4 points from the other two games. With Cameroon up first it’s time for Tulio to kick Eto’o as hard as he can, nick a goal and then hang on from grim life. Sounds more than do-able. Then park the bus against Denmark, take a point and it’s off to the second round. Incisive analysis, eh?

Goalkeepers:

1. Seigo Narazaki (Nagoya Grampus) – Played second fiddle to Kawaguchi for what felt like centuries even though most people considered him the best Japan had to offer. The first choice jersey if definitely his now and, overall, he is a solid and reliable goalkeeper. Cue him letting one dribble through his legs after 12 seconds against Cameroon.

21. Eiji Kawashima (Kawasaki Frontale) – Has been outstanding for Frontale for the last few years much to my disgust and is a very adequate goalie as he proved against England. First choice as a number two and with Narazaki getting on in years may very well move up to number one once the World Cup is over.

23. Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi (Jubilo Iwata) – The former Portsmouth keeper is a very surprising call up. No doubt just brought in to add some World Cup experience amongst the keepers, let’s just hope his tips aren’t along the lines of “Do exactly what I did against the Aussies last time.”

Defenders:

3. Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata) – A versatile full back who generally plays on the right for his club and the left for Japan. Gets forward well and is solid at the back. Quite often looks miserable which, as Gary Neville has proved, is a vital skill for a full back.

4. Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Nagoya Grampus) – Stupid hair, up his own arse, a bit of a twat. What more can you say about the Brazil born defender? You can probably say he’s actually a very good defender who would do well in Europe but seeing as I loathe the man you won’t hear that from me.  Peter Drury, if you’re reading this, Tulio is not his nickname.

5. Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo) – More cover at full back. Shouldn’t displace Komano or Uchida but at least he’s there.

6. Atsuto Uchida (Kashima Antlers) – A flying wing back who will cause his opposing full back problems. Uchida and Komano could really help Japan if they can bomb on passed the wingers and get balls into the box.

13. Daiki Iwamasa (Kashima Antlers) – Considering how dominant the Antlers have been in the J-League for the past few seasons and considering how well Iwamasa has played it is unbelievable he has only picked up 2 caps. Rumours that the Antlers are discriminated against abound (a rumour given further credence by the constant lack of Ogasawara in the squad) but then if you’ve ever been to Kashima you’d understand why you’d discriminate against it. Likely to be behind Tulio and Nakazawa in the pecking order but a more than capable deputy.

15. Yasayuki Konno (FC Tokyo) – Would the real Jimmy Utility Man please stand up? Solid, dependable, can fit in anywhere, probably gets a nosebleed on the edge of their box. I would say more but you’ll never remember him anyway.

22. Yuji Nakazawa (Yokohama F-Marinos) – The man with the best hair in the Japan squad, probably the World Cup and possibly the World. David James could take lessons from Bomberhead . A firm favourite with both F-Marinos and Japan supporters and the second most capped player and second highest goal scorer in the squad. As an F-Marinos fan all I can say is this man is pure awesome.

Midfielders:

2. Yuki Abe (Urawa Reds) – Another jack-of-all-trades who can play anywhere across the back and in midfield. Likely to be used as a midfield anchor where his low quality beard can’t get him into trouble. Another solid, skillful player who you’ll probably not even notice. Hey, if it’s good enough for Makalele, right?

7. Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka) – The 2009 Asian Player of the Year and one of Japan’s deadball experts. Teeth like Ronaldinho and, sometimes, a free kick like him too. Corner taker, penalty taker, free kick taker, teeth. One to watch.

8. Daisuke Matsui (Grenoble, France) – One of the few foreign based players and a player who was constantly overlooked by Zico even though he was playing well for Le Mans. Zico, it seemed, preferred graft over skill for all the good it did him. Matsui will have to fight hard for his place in the XI as Japan has a very skillful selection of midfielders, however, with Nakamura seemingly out of form he might claim a starting role.

10. Shunsuke Nakamura (Yokohama F-Marinos) – Returned to Japan this year after a successful spell with Celtic and then a very unsuccessful spell with Espanyol. Nakamura has probably lost that yard of pace he never had but he still possesses a deadly left foot and lovely hair. May only make the bench but might cause other teams trouble with his set pieces when, or if, he makes the field.

14. Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale) – No relation to Shunsuke but a very similar player. Skillful, creative and a major reason for the recent success of Frontale. Unlikely to start since the emergence of Honda but then it all depends on what Okada goes for. Is certainly not just in the squad to make up the numbers.

17. Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg, Germany) – A regular in the Wolfsburg midfield for the past two seasons with a lovely right foot. A good passer and very skillful in the centre of midfield. Should start but then most of the other midfielders are probably thinking that too.

18. Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow) – A wonderfully talented midfielder who has excelled since he moved to Europe. Only young and will be back in 4 years but has the quality to unlock a defence that Japan will need even at 23. Rumours are that Okada may play him up front as he looks to fit as many of his talented midfielders into the team as possible.

20. Junichi Inamoto (Kawasaki Frontale) – One for the Arsenal fans and probably just a nice little holiday for Junichi. He’s unlikely to start but offers reliable cover for Abe in the defensive role. Here’s hoping he rocks another shocking dyed number like in 2002.

Forwards:

9. Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse) – Japan’s striking problems are ably demonstrated by Okazaki. The joint top scoring striker with 16 goals he bagged 15 of them in 2009, 6 of them in 2 games, but has only registed 1 this year. Still young but unlikely to set the world alight.

11. Keiji Tamada (Nagoya Grampus) – Japan’s striking problems are ably demonstrated by….wait, I think I’ve said that already. 16 goals in 70 caps pretty much makes Tamada a poor man’s Emile Heskey.

12. Kisho Yano (Albirex Niigata) – Once scored 8 goals in one season! Yeah, a poor man’s poor man’s Emile Heskey. A Michael Ricketts if you will.

16. Yoshito Okubo (Vissel Kobe) – The bad boy of the set up who looks like he is just as likely to have a fight as score a goal. Spent some unsuccessful time in Europe but always comes back home. Has a reasonable strike rate in the J-League but I’d have taken the F-Marinos striker Watanabe instead of him. I am biased though.

19. Takayuki Morimoto (Calcio Catania) – With Honda, Morimoto is one of the pure talents in the squad. Moved to Italy when he was 18, has scored 14 goals in 69 league appearances and Alexandre Pato has a man crush on him. If he plays he may just surprise a few defenders.

Manager: Takeshi Okada – Took Japan to their first ever World Cup in 1998, won two J-Leagues in 2003 and 2004 but has struggled since he came back in 2007.

Prediction: I’m really sorry to say this and I hope I am proved horribly wrong (it wouldn’t be the first time, trivia fans) but out in the group stages without a point. 3-0 against the Dutch, 1-0 against Denmark and a heartbreaking 2-1 loss against Cameroon after being one up with 25 minutes to go. 400-1 to win the whole thing if you fancy it, though.

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