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May 2002

Ono can go on to greater things, says Stewart

30 May 2002(Thu)

Dutch League veteran Earnie Stewart believes Feyenoord midfielder Shinji Ono can go on to greater things in Europe after a successful debut season with the Rotterdam club.

The 33-year-old American international will be playing in his third World Cup in Korea-Japan after representing the United States in 1994 and 1998.

And he feels Ono is one of the most naturally-gifted players he has come across.

''I haven't seen many players that you look upon in games that have such a good functional technique,'' said Stewart, who plays for NAC Breda in the Dutch League.

''The way they handle the ball, and he does it with his left and his right foot...it's sometimes amazing to watch.

''He has had a great season with Feyenoord: a UEFA Cup-winner and probably one of the better players of Holland in this season.''

Ono, 22, joined Feyenoord from Urawa Reds last summer, and will be playing in his second World Cup after appearing as a substitute for the last 12 minutes of Japan's third and final match in France four years ago, against Jamaica.

Asked if he thought Ono could eventually move to one of Europe's major leagues, such as Spain, Italy or England, Stewart replied: ''He's definitely one of those players that can move up.

''He's already at a high level right now, but he's definitely one of the players that could still move up a little bit further.''

Stewart, who has scored 15 goals in 80 appearances for the States, began his career in the Dutch League with VVV Venlo in July 1988 and also played for Willem II Tilburg before joining Breda.


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Troussier needs victory in final warm-up

27 May 2002(Mon)

The experiments are over, the squad has been selected and it's time to get down to serious business for Philippe Troussier and Japan's national team.

The business of winning matches.

On Saturday night in Tokyo, Japan will play their final World Cup warm-up match, against Sweden, before they meet Belgium at Saitama Stadium on June 4 in their opening Group H game.

The friendly against the Swedes will be Japan's first game since Troussier announced his final 23-man squad on May 17, so he is likely to start with his strongest team.

In goal, Seigo Narazaki has had a good year for the national team, but Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi remains first choice as he has more experience of the big occasion.

Troussier's flat three defense picks itself, provided Ryuzo Morioka is back to full fitness.

He missed all Japan's games this year because of a hamstring strain, and Troussier will have to decide whether to risk him by playing him against Sweden, or saving him for the Belgium match.

It's likely Morioka will play, with Naoki Matsuda to his right and Koji Nakata to his left.

In midfield, Troussier will probably play Daisuke Ichikawa on the right and Shinji Ono on the left, with Kazuyuki Toda and Junichi Inamoto in the midfield ''engine room''.

Toda and Inamoto will provide a solid midfield platform for Hidetoshi Nakata to make the play from his central attacking role, supporting the two strikers.

This is where Japan's problems lie at the moment, as none of the strikers are in form in front of goal.

Troussier is expected to start with Atsushi Yanagisawa and Takayuki Suzuki, who are his tried and trusted pair for Kashima Antlers and Japan.

In reserve there's Akinori Nishizawa and Masashi Nakayama, and the latter may get a cameo role for the final few minutes after being a popular choice for the 23.

Sweden will provide Japan with tough opposition, and can be regarded as ideal preparation for Japan's opening World Cup game against the similarly tough, experienced and well-organized Belgians.

After a poor European tour earlier this month, losing to a second-string Real Madrid team 1-0 and then being thrashed 3-0 by Norway, Japan quickly need to rediscover the confidence which only a victory can bring.


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Fujieda makes Japan proud

23 May 2002(Thu)

World Cup fever was alive and kicking at a small town in Shizuoka prefecture on Sunday.

The scene at Fujieda city, which is hosting the Senegal team before they move to South Korea to play in their first World Cup, was as pretty as a picture postcard.
The small stadium is surrounded by forests and terraced slopes of green tea plantations, and it's quite a climb up the hill from the point where cars, taxis and buses were forced to stop.

Inside the stadium, too, the atmosphere was friendly, like a summer carnival rather than a World Cup warm-up match for Senegal's ''Lions of Teranga'' against the J.League's Kashiwa Reysol.
Behind one goal, a small group of Senegalese dressed in the bright green, yellow and orange colors of the national team banged their African bongos to an incessant beat lasting the whole of the 90 minutes.
Alongside them, fans from local club Shimizu S-Pulse joined them in cheering for the Lions against their J.League rivals.

At the other end of the stadium, the yellow-shirted Reysol fans who had followed their team down from Chiba prefecture were more subdued than usual, but this could be put down to their small numbers and the tranquil setting.
Although the match finished goalless, the fans--over 8,000 of them--went home happy, having felt a part of the World Cup festival to come.

On arriving at Shizuoka station, the attitude of the local people was extremely polite and hospitable to their foreign visitors as they were escorted to the local train out to Fujieda.
The small station was full of colorful kiosks and of helpful volunteers making sure everyone went the right way, to the buses or the taxis, and even the taxi driver had a clip board of English phrases ready to read out to his customers from overseas.
Although the Senegalese speak French, it was the thought that counts!

In a few days' time, however, there will be much more energy and passion to the proceedings, on and off the pitch, when the real business begins.
But Japan can be proud of Fujieda city, as the players, officials and supporters of Senegal were given a very warm World Cup welcome.
If this is the level of hospitality and organization on offer for the next five weeks, then Japan's half of the World Cup will be a memorable experience.



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Shunsuke: Troussier's thinking for leaving him out

20 May 2002(Mon)

There were gasps when the names of Yutaka Akita and Mitsuo Ogasawara were read out at the JFA news conference Friday to announce the 23-strong World Cup squad.

And there were cheers when Masashi Nakayama was included among four forwards.

But then the truth dawned: there was no place for Shunsuke Nakamura.

After all, the 23-year-old Yokohama F Marinos midfielder had done everything asked of him in recent Kirin Cup matches against Slovakia and Honduras by national coach Philippe Troussier.

He must have thought he'd played himself back into the World Cup squad after a frustrating time last season, but when the crunch came he was left out again.

Millions of fans, especially young females, were disappointed by the decision, as Nakamura is a handsome young man with a pleasant personality and a wonderful left-footed free kick.

But this is not enough for Troussier.

The harsh facts for Nakamura and his supporters are these:

Troussier considers Nakamura suitable for only one role in the team, and that's on the left side of midfield. It is a demanding role, requiring attacking and defensive skills, stamina and a strong physique.

Shinji Ono is Troussier's first choice for this position, and he has Alessandro Santos to come off the bench if he needs more attacking flair, or Toshihiro Hattori if he needs to tighten up on defense.

Nakamura, therefore, is fourth choice for this position, and is there room in a squad of 20 outfield players for four players in the same position?

Clearly there is not.

His manager at Yokohama, Sebastiao Lazaroni, thinks Troussier plays Nakamura out of position; that he should be playing as a playmaker in the middle rather than as a left wing-back.

In this role, however, Hidetoshi Nakata is king, and the loyal Troussier servant Hiroaki Morishima is back-up for the attacking midfield position.

If Troussier considered Nakamura as a playmaker, which he doesn't because of his lightweight physique, he could have named him as third choice, but this place went to Kashima Antlers' dynamic young field general Ogasawara.

This left Shunsuke in no-man's land.

Of course he takes a great free kick and a great corner kick, but so, too, does Hidetoshi Nakata, Ono and Santos, so once again Nakamura is fourth in line.

In the end, Troussier refused to buckle under pressure from media, the public and no doubt from sponsors, who all wanted to see the pin-up Shunsuke in the squad.

The decision will make Troussier unpopular, but it's the correct one.


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Verdenik needs leader for Grampus

16 May 2002(Thu)

His team had just won 5-1 away from home, but still manager Zdenko Verdenik was in despair.

''It's a psychological problem; my players have no self-confidence,'' complained Verdenik, after Nagoya Grampus Eight's handsome victory against Urawa Reds at Komaba Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
In the end, the three points could not propel Grampus from Group D into the Nabisco Cup quarterfinals, as Kashima Antlers won 1-0 at Sanfrecce Hiroshima to clinch the second qualifying place, behind Urawa.

''Yes, it was a great result, and it was positive, but our team is not ripe. We do not concentrate enough and are not experienced enough. I do not know what to do. Sometimes I want to go home.''
So these are worrying times for Verdenik, who was hired by the Toyota-backed Nagoya club in the hope he could do a "Jef United" with them. That is, to turn a poor team into one which can not only survive in the first division, but challenge for honors.
''It took me eight months to turn around JEF United, but hopefully we can do it a bit quicker with Grampus,'' he added.

Two of the main problems facing Verdenik are that, in his own words, there is a big difference in the age and the quality of the players at his disposal. The second is that he has no natural captain.
''Only Ueslei (the Brazilian striker) can do something different, but in the team we have no leader.''
Certainly they don't have a Dragan Stojkovic, who became a cult figure during his seven years with Nagoya, before retiring last summer and becoming president of the Yugoslav Football Association.

Grampus have tried to sign the Croatian playmaker Robert Prosinecki from English first division club Portsmouth, but he turned them down after first agreeing to move to Japan.
''OK, so he's 33 now, but he could have stayed with us for two or three years because the tempo in the J.League is not as fast as it is in England, and the opponents are not as strong physically,'' said the manager.
Grampus then turned their attentions to another Croatian, France World Cup leading scorer Davor Suker, but he signed a new contract in Germany with TSV 1860 Munich. In the end, Grampus have settled on 32-year-old Austrian forward Ivica Vastic, who spent eight years with Sturm Graz and played at the 1998 World Cup.

With Grampus already having three foreign players--Brazilians Ueslei and Marcelo and Dutch midfielder Tarik Oulida--the place of Marcelo looks most in doubt.
Ideally, Verdenik would love fellow Slovenian Zeljko Milinovic to join him at Nagoya from Ichihara, but says the club is unwilling to make an approach after the controversial way Verdenik left JEF United for Grampus at the end of last season.
He accepted Nagoya's offer--believed to be double his salary of 50 million yen a year at Ichihara--a couple of days before his final scheduled meeting with United officials.
But on Sunday he sounded like he regretted it.


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Ono, Nakata bring pride for Japan

14 May 2002(Tue)

What a proud week for Japanese football!

After Shinji Ono had won the UEFA Cup with Feyenoord on Wednesday, Hidetoshi Nakata made it a Japanese trophy double on Friday by helping Parma lift the Italian Cup.

This success at club level will certainly rub off on the rest of the Japanese players, and has come at an important time with the World Cup just three weeks away.

It was a particularly satisfying moment for Ono, and just rewards for his decision in joining the Rotterdam club.

Unlike some of his national teammates, who jumped in to overseas football over their heads, Ono chose a big club in a small league where he could steadily adapt to the different style of play following three and a half years in the J.League with Urawa Reds.

There's a big gap between the best and the rest in Holland, and it's easier for players to find their feet in a strong squad which wins more often than it loses.

The improvement in Ono's performance was there for all to see in the white-hot atmosphere of De Kuip Stadium in Rotterdam on Wednesday night, when 12,000 Borussia Dortmund fans contributed to a tense and exciting evening.

Ono has quickly matured into a responsible, disciplined central midfielder, tackling hard (sometimes a little over-enthusiastically), picking up loose balls and playing accurate, short passes.

Only in the second half, as Dortmund pushed forward with 10 men following the harsh first-half dismissal of veteran central defender Jurgen Kohler, did Ono begin to show his attacking flair.

His best moment came with a quick through-ball for the Danish forward Jon Dahl Tomasson for Feyenoord's third--and ultimately decisive--goal.

It's a pity he couldn't play the whole 90 minutes, as he was substituted in the 85th, but his contribution for his team and also for Japan will not have gone unnoticed around the world.

And so to Nakata, whose first, difficult season at Parma ended on a note of triumph: victory over two legs of the Italian Cup final against recently-crowned Serie A champions Juventus.

Nakata's late goal in the first-leg 2-1 defeat proved to be crucial, as Parma won the second leg 1-0 with an early goal from Brazilian left-back Junior. This made the score 2-2 on aggregate, but with Nakata's away goal counting double in the event of a tie, Parma won on the away goals rule.

Speaking recently in Poland, Nakata said he felt he was running into form at the right time.

''It's important how you finish the season, not start it,'' he said. ''That's what people remember.''

That's a fair point from Nakata, who was one of Parma's best players in front of a rare full house of 27,000 at the Tardini Stadium.

All in all, then, a great week for Japan, and Japanese football can be proud of its two European adventurers.


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Madrid friendly a Real waste of time

9 May 2002(Thu)

If the heavens open on Japan during the World Cup and the pitch becomes waterlogged and unplayable, at least the co-host nation will be well prepared.

Apart from that, Japan's exhibition match against Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium was a complete waste of time on Tuesday night.

Not only because Japan lost 1-0 to a 26th-minute goal from Congo, ending their seven-match unbeaten run since last October.

But because national coach Philippe Troussier will not have learned one thing as the countdown continues to the World Cup kickoff in Seoul on May 31.

It was always a mystery why Japan should agree to take part in a meaningless match against a second-rate Madrid team with their eyes on the European Cup final on May 15 against Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow.

The Madrid players were not interested, and neither were the fans, and the stands inside the famous stadium were deserted as the rain fell constantly.

If this had been a Spanish league match, there is no way the referee would have played the 90 minutes. It would have been abandoned at the start of the second half, when players emerged from the dressing room to a field covered in puddles.

As a result, the match was a farce, with the ball either stopping dead in a deep puddle or shooting across the turf and out of play.

The fact that Madrid couldn't care less about this so-called centenary celebration match could be seen in their lineup, which lacked Fernando Hierro at the back, Zinedine Zidane in midfield and Raul up front.

Roberto Carlos was the captain but didn't even play the whole of the first half. Neither did Luis Figo, who clearly wasn't going to do himself any damage with the European Cup and World Cup just around the corner.

In the end, Japan lost to a goal which was a result of their suicidal offside tactics.

When Roberto Carlos drove a low free kick from the left across the face of goal, the Japan defense stepped up in a bid to catch the Real players offside.

But Koji Nakata on the back post was a little slow off the mark, and Congo was level with him when he diverted the ball past Hitoshi Sogahata.

Not that Nakata can be blamed, because those tactics are just asking for trouble in the hurly-burly of the penalty box where there is so much confusion, especially when Roberto Carlos is taking a free kick.

Apart from that, Nakata was Japan's best player, putting in some perfectly-timed tackles in the first half when the pitch was still playable.

Another positive aspect for Troussier was the display of Junichi Inamoto, who lasted the 90 minutes despite the heavy conditions. He should be match sharp by the time the World Cup kicks off after a season on the Arsenal training pitch and bench.

In general, though, it was a complete waste of time.

Even if Toshihiro Hattori's close-range volley had gone in in the final seconds instead of being blocked by the keeper, it would have meant nothing at all.

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Inamoto hopes to impress Arsenal at World Cup

8 May 2002(Wed)

Most players try to play well for their clubs to win a place in the World Cup.

But in the case of Junichi Inamoto, he will try and play well in the World Cup to win a place in his club team.

This is the unusual situation Inamoto finds himself in, following a disappointing debut season in London with English Premier League giants Arsenal.

After moving from Gamba Osaka last July, Inamoto found himself behind a long queue of talented, experienced midfielders in Arsene Wenger's world-class squad.

His first-team opportunities were restricted to substitute appearances in the UEFA Champions League and in the English League Cup, a very distant third in importance on the domestic front behind the Premier League and FA Cup.

Arsenal didn't even need Inamoto for the season's run-in, when they have the chance of winning the Premier League and FA Cup double.

So it's no wonder he's thirsting for action back home in Japan's national team, and looking forward more than most to playing for Japan in the World Cup.

''I love London, I love Arsenal, and I want to stay there,'' he says.

''If I can play well in the World Cup for Japan, hopefully it will convince Arsenal I am good enough to be part of the squad.''

One of the bright spots for Japan during the chaotic 3-3 draw with Honduras at Kobe Wing Stadium on Thursday was the performance of Inamoto in central midfield.

He looked like his old self, full of running, tackling and pushing forward at every opportunity. He was hungry and determined, and that's exactly what national coach Philippe Troussier was wanting to see after he failed to make an impression in the 1-0 victory over Slovakia three days earlier.

Not surprisingly, after a season on the sidelines in England, playing only low-key reserve team football for the Gunners, Inamoto lacks match fitness as opposed to physical fitness, and before the Honduras game he commented: ''We (Japan) have four games left before the World Cup, and I want to play for 90 minutes in all of them.

''If I can do this, I am sure I will be ready for the World Cup. My condition is getting better with each match.''

Japan needs a fit Inamoto, working away in the midfield engine room, to help them get out of Group H against Belgium, Russia and Tunisia.

Whether Arsenal need him is still open to debate.


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Yanagisawa out on a wing

2 May 2002(Thu)

TOKYO (April 30): Has Philippe Troussier lost the plot?

Has Atsushi Yanagisawa lost his spirit as well as his confidence?

These two questions have to be asked after the Frenchman's bizarre decision to play the Kashima Antlers striker on the right side of midfield for Monday's Kirin Cup clash with Slovakia at Tokyo's National Stadium.

On the eve of the game, Troussier had promised selection surprises, and he certainly delivered on this front.

Not so much by playing a 3-4-2-1 formation, with Akinori Nishizawa as the solitary striker, but by putting Yanagisawa on the right side of the midfield four.

Yanagisawa has pace and power, and even describes himself more as a chance-maker than a chance-taker, but he is not a wing-back as his defensive qualities are virtually non-existent.

This was cruelly exposed on one occasion in the first half, but, still, he put this setback behind him to push forward with purpose on the right flank.
Early in the second half he even had a shot at goal, but the effort was saved comfortably by the keeper, and on 56 minutes he was taken off by the coach.

Yanagisawa was clearly unhappy, as Troussier seems quick to use him as a scapegoat when things are not going according to plan.

Surely a more logical substitution would have been to take off Nishizawa, move Yanagisawa into the forward line, and bring on one of the two right-sided midfield specialists he had sitting on the bench: Daisuke Ichikawa or Yasuhiro Hato.

Although Hato did come on, it was a straight swap for Yanagisawa, leaving the out-of-touch Nishizawa up front.

Although the Cerezo Osaka forward was credited with Japan's winning goal in the 38th minute, it was a very generous award by the match officials, as he merely supplied the low cross from the right which produced the goalmouth scramble, from which the ball rolled slowly over the line.

At first viewing it looked like an own goal by one of two Slovakian defenders, and that still seemed the case as match officials debated whether to give it to Nishizawa or to Hiroaki Morishima, who had been in the middle of the Slovakian sandwich.

But more of a concern than who scored the goal was the psychological condition of Yanagisawa with only five weeks to the World Cup.

At the end of last year he was without doubt Japan's No. 1 striker, but now he must be confused and lacking self-confidence over his role in the team.


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