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March 2002

Miyamoto relishes captain's responsibility

28 Mar 2002(Thu)

Philippe Troussier has achieved many things during his time in charge of the national team.

But one of them isn't finding a regular captain.

Tsuneyasu Miyamoto believes he has the answer to the Frenchman's problem: himself!

The Gamba Osaka defender is as smart and intelligent off the field as he is on it, and just relishes the responsibility of wearing the captain's arm band.

When asked if he would be leading the national team out for their friendly against Poland at the home stadium of Widzew Lodz on Wednesday, Miyamoto replied: ''I hope so.

''My position in the team is very important, so I must take big responsibility as a player.

''If I am made captain, then I must impose myself on the other players as well, but I enjoy that.''

It's unusual to find a Japanese player openly saying he wants to be the leader, and this attitude has not gone unnoticed by Troussier, who appointed him captain for the first time against Italy last November.

Miyamoto responded with an inspirational display, the highlight of which was an incredible goal-saving tackle on Francesco Totti as the Prince of Roma seemed certain to score from close range.

Miyamoto was not quite as assured in the 1-0 victory over Ukraine last Thursday, but he should retain his place in the continued absence through injury of Ryuzo Morioka.

The 25-year-old centre back appreciates he has a wonderful opportunity to book his slot in Japan's World Cup 23.

''Of course the injury to Morioka has given me a chance, but I was challenging for the position before that,'' he is quick to point out, and rightly so after running Troussier's oft-discussed flat back three in the 2-2 draw with Nigeria at Southampton last October and the 1-1 draw with Italy before Morioka got hurt.

''I understand the situation with Morioka, because I have had injuries of my own in the past.

''I have to show Philippe Troussier what I am capable of before Morioka returns from injury.''

Japan's flat three, which plays a very aggressive offside trap and pushes up quickly to deny the opposition space in midfield, is pivotal to the overall success of the team.

If the flat three system breaks down, the team is in trouble, but if it runs smoothly the opposition often do not know which way to turn.

Despite these pressures on the middle man, Miyamoto is more than willing to take the job on.

And the captain's arm band, too, please Monsieur.


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Reysol star moves ahead of pack

24 Mar 2002(Sun)

Kashiwa Reysol striker Hwang Sun Hong has put himself in pole position on the strikers' grid in the race to win a place in South Korea's World Cup squad.

The 33-year-old forward scored both Korea's goals in a 2-0 win over Finland in Spain on March 20, and national coach Guus Hiddink must have been impressed with his finishing prowess.

Although the Koreans have developed into a more controlled, organized and tactically disciplined outfit under the Dutchman, there has been concern that the goals have not been coming at the other end.

So Hwang's stylish late double strike will have lifted Hiddink's spirits ahead of their next match, against Turkey in Germany on March 26.

Going into the game against the Finns, Hiddink had said: ''I have to look for the right balance in my squad of 23 for the World Cup, and I cannot bring six or seven strikers for two positions.

"They must make the difference, and make the competition amongst themselves.

"So whoever shows efficiency in scoring or in assisting, his chances will be bigger of making the ultimate 23.''

Clearly Hwang took Hiddink's words to heart.

Japanese fans are well aware of his scoring power, as he won the Golden Boot with Cerezo Osaka as the J.League's leading scorer before moving on to Kashiwa Reysol, where he is treasured by their English manager Steve Perryman.

He has already made his mark on the World Cup stage, too, scoring a glorious solo goal in a 3-2 defeat by Germany in the 1994 edition in the United States. But so often on the big occasion, injury has hampered Hwang's opportunities.

His goals against Finland showed that he has lost none of his touch.

For the first, although there was a hint of offside, he displayed composure and a cool head in a tight area in the box and caressed the ball into the far corner.

His second was a real predator's effort, as he climbed high to meet a right-wing cross and thunder a header into the net from close range.

The way the season is developing, Hiddink may well go with a J.League 1-2 for his World Cup strikeforce, with JEF United Ichihara's Choi Yong Soo looking likely to partner Hwang up front.

Hiddink refers to Choi as "Jeffy" and is a big admirer of his all-action, aggressive style.

Certainly these two appear to be ahead of Anderlecht's Seol Ki Hyun and Perugia's Ahn Jung Hwan, neither of whom are playing regularly.

In Korea's previous friendly, a 0-0 draw in Tunisia, Hiddink noted how much time Ahn needed to recover after a burst of action, a condition he put down to spending most of his time on the bench in Italy.

Of the Korea-based strikers, pin-up boy Lee Dong Gook is more flash than substance, and Kim Do Hoon was not even brought on the tour by Hiddink.

So Hwang and Choi know that if they keep up the good work for club and country, they will have the honor of leading the attacking line when the World Cup comes to town.

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Aussie downplays World Cup rain factor

21 Mar 2002(Thu)

Australian international Josip Skoko does not think the rainy season will have too much effect on this summer's World Cup in Japan and South Korea.

Skoko was a member of the Australian squad which finished third in the FIFA Confederations Cup last June, when the eight-nation tournament was used as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup.

"Before the Confederations Cup, everyone was talking about the monsoon season and the fact that all the games would be played in torrential rain," said the Belgium-based midfielder.

"But in all our time in Korea and Japan it rained only once, against Japan in the semifinal."

The Socceroos lost that watery battle 1-0 after a power-packed free kick from Japan's captain, Hidetoshi Nakata, sped through the defensive wall and into the net.

Australia went on to finish third by beating Brazil in the playoff back in Korea.

"The conditions were not a problem at all, because the pitches were in fantastic condition," added Skoko, who is captain of championship-challenging Genk in the Belgian first division.

"The stadiums, the hotels were brilliant everywhere, but I think the level in Korea was not as good as Japan at that time in terms of hotels and transport.

"But I am sure they have made their best effort since then."

Skoko also had some words of warning for Japan, who will play Belgium in their opening Group H game at Saitama Stadium on June 4.

In particular, Skoko feels Japan should be on their guard for his Genk teammate, Wesley Sonck, who has been the sensation of the Belgian season with 27 goals so far.

"I rate him very highly," said Skoko.

"He has scored a bag full of goals this season but does so much more for the team than that.

"He makes good runs, is a cool finisher and is fairly deadly around the box."

Asked if he thought Sonck could make the step up from Belgian league to World Cup, the Aussie was in no doubt: "It will be a really good chance to show himself to the world, and I think he is capable of mixing it with the best.

"Of course the pace and the skill level is different, and it will take him time to adjust, but he has enough quality and brain to make that step.

"He's got a bit of everything."

Japan beware of Belgium's new "Sonck-sation"!

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Ogasawara gets his reward

17 Mar 2002(Sun)

At last, Mitsuo Ogasawara has been given a chance to stake his claim for a place in Japan's World Cup 23.

The young Kashima Antlers playmaker was among the 22 players called up this week by national coach Philippe Troussier for Japan's friendly matches against Ukraine on March 21 and Poland on March 27.

Not only has the Frenchman rewarded Ogasawara with a place his efforts have deserved over the past two seasons, the selection will put further pressure on Hidetoshi Nakata for the attacking midfield role behind the two strikers in Japan's 3-5-2 system.

For many observers, Ogasawara's selection has come too late, as he has been producing match-winning performances for Antlers on a consistent basis during the club's trophy-filled years of 2000 and 2001.

He learned his midfield trade under the playmaker Bismarck, and the Antlers' decision-makers were so impressed with Ogasawara's form that they released the Brazilian at the end of last season.

His natural talent, however, has never been in question, and the quiet youngster was a key member--if not a high-profile one--of the Japan team which finished second to Spain in the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship in Nigeria.

While the likes of captain Shinji Ono, winger Masashi Motoyama and striker Naohiro Takahara grabbed all the attention, Ogasawara just got on with his job in the midfield engine room and let the results do the talking.

This type of team-first, self-second approach would have endeared him to Troussier, whose coaching philosophy is based on team ethic and individual sacrifice.

The problem for Ogasawara was that the competition for places in attacking midfield was very strong, and he couldn't even win a place in Japan's 18-man squad for the Sydney Olympics.

Nakata, who is disappearing off the Serie A radar at Parma, remains first choice, with Hiroaki Morishima and Shinji Ono all capable deputies, so Ogasawara has had to bide his time until an opening was there.

Clearly Troussier felt the time was right, and if Ogasawara can make an impact against Ukraine and/or Poland, then Nakata's position in Japan's World Cup starting lineup may not be a foregone conclusion after all.

Ogasawara once put his improved form and maturity down to getting married, at an early age, to his high-school sweetheart.

Now he hopes he has found a lasting relationship with Japan's national team.


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Van Zwam angry with Jubilo

14 Mar 2002(Thu)

Dutch goalkeeper Arno Van Zwam is prepared to walk out on Jubilo Iwata because of the club's handling of the proposed transfer of Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi from Portsmouth.

Van Zwam was furious with Jubilo when he learned that they were ready to trade him in part-exchange for Kawaguchi, who has no future at the south coast club after being dropped at the beginning of the year.

And the big Dutchman says he is considering his future once his contract expires at the end of June.

''My manager called me and said he had read in the newspapers that Jubilo were swapping me for Kawaguchi, and that I was going to play for Portsmouth,'' said Van Zwam.

''I didn't know a thing about it, so I went to the club and asked them what was going on.

''They said they were interested in Kawaguchi and that I may want to go there, but they had never even asked me.

''I have been very professional with this club, and that is no way to treat a player.''

When asked if he wanted to stay with Jubilo when his contract expired, he replied: ''I want to stay in Japan.

''My family like it here and the kids are settled at school, but we will have to wait and see what happens.

''I have been told by Jubilo that they will give me an answer by the end of the month.''

Van Zwam, 32, joined Jubilo in June 2000 after 14 seasons with Fortuna Sittard in the Dutch league.

He was one of five Jubilo players named in the J.League Best XI last season after Jubilo had won the first stage of the championship before losing to Kashima Antlers in the two-leg playoff.

Over the 30 games, Jubilo conceded a league low 26 goals, and Van Zwam played in 26 of those 30 games, missing four with a shoulder injury.

If he cannot come to an agreement on a new deal, or if Jubilo are successful in rescuing national team keeper Kawaguchi from his Pompey nightmare, then Van Zwam could be in line for a transfer to Urawa Reds.

Now coached by the Dutch duo of Hans Ooft and Wim Jansen, Reds have already lost their opening two league games after failing in a bid to sign Daijiro Takakuwa from Kashima Antlers last season. Takakuwa eventually joined Tokyo Verdy.

If Van Zwam joined Urawa, however, they would have to lose one of their three Brazilians: forwards Emerson and Tuto, or attacking midfielder Harison.


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J.League mice need to roar

10 Mar 2002(Sun)

When the 10th J.League season kicked off last weekend, neutral observers were hoping for a new force to emerge this year.

Among them was the J.League's chairman, Saburo Kawabuchi, who knows how important it is for the two heavyweights, Kashima Antlers and Jubilo Iwata, to be challenged throughout the season.

After all, these two clubs have dominated the league for the past six years, with Antlers winning the championship in 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2001, and Jubilo cleaning up in 1997 and 1999.

In particular, Kawabuchi wants the Kansai area teams to turn from mice to lions, to inject much-needed interest in the cities of Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto.

Osaka has already lost one of its teams to J2 (Cerezo were relegated last season), but there is a feeling Gamba can become a serious threat to Japan's soccer establishment.

Gamba have always had good players, and now they have a manager regarded as the best Japanese in the business in Akira Nishino.

He was in charge of Japan's Olympic team which beat Brazil 1-0 in the Atlanta Games of 1996, and then built an impressive team at Kashiwa Reysol, which was clearly the best in the 2000 season but missed out on the championship because of the J.League's controversial two-stage format.

When he could take Reysol no further, he was fired midway through last season, and eventually resurfaced at Gamba Osaka.

Nishino has some top-quality Japanese players at his disposal, including national squad goalkeeper Ryota Tsuzuki, central defender Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, midfielder Yasuhito Endo and striker Kota Yoshihara.

Japan's national coach, Philippe Troussier, likes to compare Japanese players with overseas stars, and once described Yoshihara as the Romario of Japan for the way he eludes defenders in the penalty box, and Endo as the Fernando Redondo due to his range of passing and shooting.

Gamba began well last Sunday, beating Nishino's former team Reysol 1-0 with a goal from Yoshihara, and there is no reason why they can't win the Kansai derby at Kyoto on Sunday.

FC Tokyo (4-2 against Antlers) and Sanfrecce Hiroshima (5-1 against Consadole Sapporo) also made impressive starts, but Gamba could be the J.League mouse about to roar in 2002.


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FC Tokyo: Bring on Real Madrid!

7 Mar 2002(Thu)

Considering he plays with only one forward (and a 35-year-old Brazilian forward at that), FC Tokyo manager Hiromi Hara has set himself some ambitious targets.

After watching his hungry team demolish the reigning league champions, Kashima Antlers, 4-2 at Tokyo Stadium on the opening day of the new season, Hara spoke of his long-term goals for the capital club.

"We are not a big club," he admitted, "but we want to become the kind of team that will give the big clubs a hard time."

He used Spain as an example, and likened FC Tokyo to Alaves or Real Betis compared to the giants of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

"When Alaves or Betis play Real Madrid, the players and the fans put everything into it. This is what I want FC Tokyo to become.

"If we play exciting, attacking football, more people will come to watch us, we will get more money and then we can sign top players. For now, though, we must be resourceful.''

Hara, a former national team striker, was appointed manager in the close-season to build on the solid work of his predecessor, Kiyoshi Okuma, who had been in charge of FC Tokyo and its forerunner, Tokyo Gas, for a total of seven years.

The players are the same, though, apart from 24-year-old Brazilian Jean, of Bahia FC, replacing Sandro in the heart of the defense.

Hara played a 4-5-1 formation, with veteran Brazilian Amaral alone up front and supported from the right flank by captain Yukihiko Sato, from the left by Masamitsu Kobayashi and through the middle by fellow Brazilian Kelly.

Against Antlers, Kobayashi scored twice and laid on the other two for central defender Tetsuya Ito and Kelly.

But it was the display of 23-year-old Masashi Miyazawa which really caught the eye. The former Chuo University student had appeared in only one previous league game for FC Tokyo, but, with his striking white boots and elegant left foot, he produced a masterful midfield performance.

Hara didn't even know it was only Miyazawa's second league game, and said he had been picked because of his form in practice matches.

If Hara can continue to inspire his players like this, and the goals keep flowing, then FC Tokyo's fans should be in for a treat this season.

Bring on Real Madrid!


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Toninho says 'six or seven' teams in title chase

3 Mar 2002(Sun)

In his two years in Japan, Kashima Antlers' Brazilian boss Toninho Cerezo has picked up four of the six major trophies up for grabs.

These include the past two league championships, but the former World Cup midfielder is taking nothing for granted when the 10th season of professional soccer in Japan kicks off Saturday.

When asked who Kashima's biggest rivals would be this season, Toninho replied quickly: "The next one.

"I think all matches will be hard this season, and that six or seven teams are capable of winning the championship."

Antlers are obviously one of them, but they will have to do it without Brazilian midfielder Bismarck, who was not retained at the end of last season and is now playing for Fluminense in the Brazilian championship.

"He was a very experienced player, and I don't expect any one player to fill his role," added Toninho.

The No. 10 jersey has gone to World Cup-hopeful Masashi Motoyama, who was voted into FIFA's all-star team at the 1999 World Youth Championship in Nigeria, where Japan finished runners-up to Spain.

Motoyama has never been able to hold down a regular first-team slot at Kashima, but now he gets his chance after Bismarck's departure.

Motoyama and Bismarck's midfield understudy, Mitsuo Ogasawara, will step up and provide the main creative thrust to the Antlers attack.

"I think we have the quality to fill the gap," adds Toninho.

"My job this season is to bring on the younger players, and there's no better way of doing this than in real match situations in the J.League.

"We also have some very experienced defenders who can help them along."

Antlers' major challengers will be Jubilo Iwata, last season's runners-up, who now have national team striker Naohiro Takahara back in the fold after an unsuccessful spell with Boca Juniors.

Kashiwa Reysol should also be a major threat, especially with Brazilian World Cup midfielder Cesar Sampaio in the engine room alongside national squad regular Tomokazu Myojin.

"I have been incredibly impressed with Sampaio," admits Reysol's English manager Steve Perryman.

"Although his training has been limited because of a hamstring injury, it's clear to see his brain is working."

Yokohama F Marinos should also be up there, despite escaping relegation on the final day of last season.

Marinos, under Brazilian manager Sebastiao Lazaroni, have made some interesting close-season signings, notably midfielder Daisuke Oku and striker Norihisa Shimizu from Jubilo, central defender Yuji Nakazawa from Tokyo Verdy and Brazilian center forward Will from Consadole Sapporo. Will led the scoring charts last season with 24 goals after moving north to Sapporo from second division club Oita Trinita.

The new season will kick off with seven of the 16 first division clubs under new management.

These include Urawa Reds, who have gone double Dutch by hiring Hans Ooft as manager and Wim Jansen as head coach. This pair know all about Japanese football, as Ooft coached the national team and also Jubilo and Kyoto Purple Sanga, while Jansen had two years in charge of Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

But Ooft is not expecting immediate results.

"Our fans are No. 1 but the team is not," says Ooft.

"I would say Reds are at the same level where Jubilo were when I took over in 1994. We must take it step by step and look at the picture over a five-year period."

With World Cup fever sweeping Japan, and with the J.League finances boosted by new, lucrative long-term deals with sponsors and TV, expect another Japanese soccer boom in 2002.

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