Japan Today



World Cup probably already over for Japan

By Fred Varcoe

It’s the biggest single-sport event in the world. And just as soccer is the “world game,” the FIFA World Cup tends to consume the entire planet every four years. Japan will be making its fourth consecutive appearance in the tournament, and right around now, we should be feeling a buzz of anticipation around the country. But it just isn’t there.

Japanese fans can be forgiven for feeling jaded. The 2006 World Cup was a big blowout. Sure, the Zico-led Japan team was expected to lose to Brazil, and the point they won against Croatia was a surprise (especially, one assumes, to the Croatians), but the capitulation against Australia was a demoralizing blow. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been, though: while Australia may be an “Asian” team (well, in FIFA’s world), they could really be classified as European.

Still, however much you try to gloss over the past, the plain truth is that Japan invariably performs below expectations at the World Cup. Once, the country at least had high hopes; now they have none. According to bookmakers Ladbrokes, only Honduras, New Zealand and North Korea have worse odds in the World Cup, and most pundits are of the opinion that Japan will be hard-pressed not to come bottom in their group.

So what’s gone wrong?

Much of the blame can be laid at the door of coach Takeshi Okada who has simply failed to get the job done. One thing that many people forget is that the international game and the domestic game are entirely different. Being a great domestic player doesn’t mean you’ll be a great international player, and the same holds true for managers. You only have to look at the England team to see that: Sven Goran Eriksson, Don Revie, Steve McClaren and Graham Taylor were all superb at the club level, but emerged from their stints as England manager with their reputations in tatters.

Likewise, Okada’s standing in Japan is second to none. He spent a year in Germany learning how to coach, took Japan to the 1998 World Cup, took Consadole Sapporo into J1, and won back-to-back J.League titles with Yokohama F Marinos. But his reign as Japan manager can only be considered adequate.

In truth, Okada hasn’t improved the national side. He relies too much on the same players, is unable to see the defects in some of his team, and is reluctant to experiment in terms of selection and tactics. In his defense, the level of coaching in Japan is poor across the board, and many of the players are damaged goods to begin with.

So who can save Japan? At the back, the central pair of Yuji Nakazawa and Marcus Tulio Tanaka are definitely worthy of the shirt. Nakazawa is willing to die for the cause, while Tulio also has fantastic competitive drive (although he’s definitely one of Japan’s top drama queens). In midfield, Shunsuke Nakamura has the skills to compete with anyone in South Africa, and the ever-improving Keisuke Honda has the ability to change games. Both are deadly at free kicks, so striker Keiji Tamada’s inability to remain in a standing position around the box should prove useful.

Forward Kisho Yano has also earned his place, but he’s largely untried by Okada and probably won’t start initially. Catania’s Takayuki Morimoto similarly lacks experience playing with Japan, though he has plenty of confidence as a Serie A striker. And that’s about it in terms of inspiration. Kengo Nakamura, Yasuhito Endo and Daisuke Matsui all have wonderful skills in midfield—if they decide to put those skills to use. Otherwise, the squad lacks inspiration, and perspiration alone won’t cut it against Cameroon, the Netherlands and Denmark.

In fact, the only buzz around the Japan team is the rumor that Guido Buchwald will replace Okada after it’s all over — which, in case you haven’t worked it out yet, will be around 5:30 a.m. on June 25.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

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"It’s the biggest single-sport event in the world." <- not complete "It's the biggest sport event in the world" <- now it's complete

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Whatever is fine as long as France quickly lose.

Go Japan!

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I think they've got a decent shot against Cameroon in their first match and if they can win that and build up some confidence in themselves they might even be able to beat the Netherlands or Denmark (but not both), and make it through to stage 2, and possibly even the quarter-finals. I don't think anyone seriously expects them to win, but I think they definitely have the potential to make a darned good showing.

... and at the end of the day I think it's important to remember that it's just a game. ... provided the French lose, because they're absolutely insufferable when they win anything.

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Japan is low in the bookmakers ratings because they are in such a tough group, otherwise I bet they'll fare better in the bookies opinion.

On the other side, France is against South Africa, Uruguay and Mexico, which should provide less of a challenge in general, unfortunately for the two commentators above. If they can get their heads out of their asses faster than the last world cups, they should finish first of the group, second otherwise is my guess (and/or hope). BTW, on coach level, France's Domenech is at least as criticized as Okada...

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Draws will be the key to progressing past the group stage for Japan. A win over Cameroon and then draws with Netherlands and Denmark are probably their best shot. In such a scenario they will need to get lucky with the resukls of the other matches, and will also need a couple of goals clearance against Cameroon to give them the upper hand when it comes to for and against.

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So much bagging about Okada but the question should be 'who was the genius who decided to give Okada another crack as national coach after he dropped the ball last time??' Has this genius been sacked?

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Japan simply does not have the population base to be able to produce winners. This is also apparent in their paltry performances in the Olympic Games.

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I'm trying to imagine a scenario where Japan beats the Dutch. I have a vivid imagination and it's jut not working...

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Japan simply does not have the population base to be able to produce winners

Japan's pop. is 128m. Current World Champions are Italy, pop. 57m

is also apparent in their paltry performances in the Olympic Games.

They came 8th, which isn't bad at all. Great Britain came 4th with nearly double Japan's medal haul but less than half Japan's population. Size really doesn't matter...

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World Cup already over for Japan. In all probability (=100%) !

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The WC is full of surprises. The pool is difficult, yes, but anything can happen. Go Japan! Lose the final match against Argentina!

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Japan has the same problem with soccer that it has with every sport it tries to play internationally. The governing bodies for every sport are waaaaay behind the times. They are run by old men who plyed the game 40 or 50 years ago and have no idea the training and tactics that need to be used to succeed outside of Japan. Nothing will change until free thinkers take control.

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japan will win it all! mark my words.

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you can take the "probably" out of the article title, boys...

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I still don't understand why everyone seems to think Japan's is a tough group. If you look across the board the groups are all pretty evenly balanced out, except maybe Brazil's group which has three very good teams. Cameroon and Denmark are very beatable, as poor as Japan have been of late. In the end it's only 3 games to go through the group, and there's a lot of variables that could flip things one way or the other. Getting through the group would be considered a major success, I think, despite the coaches talk of semi-finals.

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I think it's important to remember that it's just a game

which is why they have already lost.... Try telling that to the Brazillians, Argentinians, French, English etc

Japan simply does not have the population base to be able to produce winners.

But doesn't Japan have one of the largest populations of the competing countries? What am I missing?!?!?

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only Honduras, New Zealand and North Korea have worse odds in the World Cup??

Hey, I just want everyone to know that Honduras at least went to war against El Salvador many years ago before trying to qualify for the World Cup, so I do not think it it fair to put Honduras in the same looser group New Zealand, North Korea and Japan. But I want Japan to at least try in South Africa! Ganbare nippon!

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Sven Goran Eriksson, Don Revie, Steve McClaren and Graham Taylor were all superb at the club level,

That's a very rash statement! Only Eriksson won anything substantial enough at club level to warrant being called very good, let alone superb.

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What a stupid article. The writer obviously didn't watch Japan v England. Japan should have won (btw, I am an England supporter) Japan are more than capable of qualifying to the second round, and were unlucky not to do so in Germany 2006. They should have beaten Australia and Croatia. They have got some good players and their playmaker (Shunsuke Nakamura) will be an excellent asset to have on the bench.

Moderator: The commentary was written before the Japan-England game.

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I thought they showed excellent signs against England as well. They are a big chance of getting through their group if they play the way they did the other night. Technical passing, quick, attacking, it was all there.

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like I said before Jpn will be lucky to get a goal, maybe they will pull off a single draw........

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djuice at 10:48 AM JST - 2nd June

Japan simply does not have the population base to be able to produce winners. This is also apparent in their paltry performances in the Olympic Games.

I think they believe that positive thinking (Gambatte, Nip-pon!) and group-think are more than enough to defeat the passion for the game that other countries foster.

For a lot of developing countries, soccer is the road to stardom. It's the way out of poverty, like the NBA is for many. That incentive drives a lot of kids to get GREAT at the game and become the next Pele...(in their own minds, anyway.) Could it be that Japan doesn't have the poverty to inspire legendary athletes in this game?

How often do Japanese players compete against European teams? Perhaps I'm missing something, but they need to experience the tactics of European players firsthand...

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Firstly, Okada has an impressive career yes, but his success has been based entirely the J-LEAGUE! In terms of standard, the J-league ranks so low compared to other leagues around the world that his success means absolutely nothing.


Shunsuke Nakamura has the skills to compete with anyone in South Africa

Thanks for making me spit my coffee all over my computer. Nakamura is so past it its not even funny. If he was one of the most skilled midfielders in Europe then why didnt he ever play for a decent club? I'm sorry but warming the bench for Espanyol these days does not count. Laughable statement.

Yeh, Japan have no chance. Its sad but they will get minced by the Netherlands and struggle even against Denmark(!). The reality is that the only reason Fifa lets teams like Japan in is cash, plain and simple.

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I find the issue about population very ridiculous. Are you guys suggesting that China and India should win all games? Cameroun has 5m people. I guess they shouldn't have been allowed near South Africa then

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Already over? The Japanese team played their hearts out to qualify. They will stand together as a team, proud listening to their national anthem on the speakers of the PA system before the game. Already over? The team will get the chance to play against some of the best teams in the world. Individual players may well shine on the world stage and come to the attention of scouts for big clubs. Already over? Who are you kidding Mr. Varcoe? Yes, under-dogs they are but participants in one the greatest events in the sporting calendar. Don't belittle their achievements Mr. Varcoe, embrace it. Don a blue shirt and join in the fun. The locals put up a huge TV screen in Komazawa park when Japan played Russia in the 2002 Finals. Japan 1 - Russia 0. Thousands of people where in the park. One of the best nights I have had in this country. Unforgettable.

Already over you say Mr. Varcoe? No victory for Japan, you say? Have a little faith. Lift the shroud of the dark side. My old padawan, already over? It is footie, anything can happen, much to learn you still have. Over? No! It has only just begun.

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could have , would have , should have, just doesn,t cut it they need to start winning soon very soon but under Okada they have no chance he doesn,t think outside the square.. Japan well i think okikibi summed it up.

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Of course Japan won't amount to anything in the "Wold Cup" (as was spelled in a sport bar in Tokyo today) but , hey, ganbarimashita deshoo ?! Besides, the Stanley Cup is on, who cares about footy.

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" japan will win it all! mark my words. "

LOL! Nice to have a contrarian on board.

As for me, I think the blue boys have a reasonable chance to proceed from their group. But not very far after that.

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It's all about expectations.

Japan would be delighted to get out of the group, and that's all they can realistically hope for.

It's not beyond a fully--functioning Japan team to get results against Cameroon and Denmark.

Beat Cameroon, draw with Denmark, and lose to the Dutch by less than the Danes do.

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the flight from here to south africa is pretty far so all the players will rack up the miles on their mileage accounts! it's not a total loss.

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I would like Japan to score at least a goal and secure at least one win, just to prove 90% of the people on this site wrong. That would be fun.

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