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October 2002

Consadole will be missed in top flight

31 Oct 2002(Thu)

It was a moving experience to be at Ibaraki Stadium on Sunday when Consadole Sapporo were relegated to the second division.

Consadole had contributed to a very entertaining game, going in front on two occasions through Takafumi Ogura.

Kashima Antlers came back each time, with two smart finishes from Atsushi Yanagisawa, so the game went to extra time at 2-2.

Consadole, against all the odds, were still fighting bravely for their place in J1.

But a goal from young left-back Tatsuya Ishikawa on 102 minutes gave Antlers the 3-2 win and two points in their bid to catch Jubilo Iwata, while condemning Consadole to J2 with four J1 games remaining.

I will miss Consadole next season, as will the J.League's top flight in general.

Not only is the club the northernmost outpost of the J.League, thereby giving identity to Hokkaido, Consadole also have excellent fans.

Especially away from home, where their distinctive red and black colors always look impressive in the "away" fans end or section of the stadium.

After Sunday's game, the Antlers fans, not known for their generosity of spirit, even chanted "Consadole" as a tribute to the efforts of the visiting team in a long, hard season.

Consadole fans responded with a chorus of "Kashima Antlers" before pledging their loyalty to their own club with a booming and defiant "We are Sapporo, we are Sapporo!" (to the catchy tune of "Ooo-aah, Can-to-na").

This was a lovely moment, and why foreigners involved in the J.League frequently feel it is like stepping back in time because of the respect, family atmosphere and lack of violence between the rival fans.

Long may this continue!

Consadole had three diffrerent managers during the season, starting with Tetsuji Hashiratani, who was given a tough baptism in the managerial game.

They were also unlucky with injuries, notably to the bright and intelligent Koji Yamase.

But Consadole have bounced back before and can do it again. They joined the J.League in 1998 but lasted only one season in J1 before dropping to J2 in 1999 and 2000, winning the second division championship in 2000.

They were 11th in J1 last season thanks largely to the 24 goals of Brazilian Will, but could not find the same kind of firepower this time and suffered the consequences.

I wish Consadole--and their fantastic fans--a speedy return to J1.

ends

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New rule for Toyota Cup adds interest

27 Oct 2002(Sun)

There are many reasons for wanting to watch the Toyota Cup game between Real Madrid and Olimpia of Paraguay at International Stadium Yokohama on December 3.

Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Roberto Carlos...there are five excellent reasons to begin with.

But I am also very interested by the new format being used for the first time in the Toyota Cup if the match goes to extra time.

At a news conference in Tokyo this week, the Japan Football Association made the following announcement:

"If, on completion of the first period of extra time (lasting 15 minutes), one of the two teams has scored more goals than the other, that team shall be declared the winner.

"If no decisive goal has been scored by the end of the first 15-minute period of extra time, a second 15-minute period of extra time shall be played."

If the teams are still level after that, penalties will be used to decide the winner.

This new rule, ending a game halfway through extra time, has been put forward by European governing body UEFA.

UEFA's South American counterparts, CONMEBOL, agreed to the proposal, so Toyota Cup organizers were happy to adopt it for the first time in the world outside of Europe.

The reason behind it is because the Europeans dislike the "golden goal" finish to a match in "sudden death" extra time.

European coaches feel the golden goal rule is unfair to the team that concedes the goal in extra time, as it does not give them any possibility to fight back and equalize.

They also think it can produce a scrappy and untidy end to the match. For example, do you remember the Euro 2000 semifinal between France and Portugal?

France were awarded a penalty in extra time, and when Zidane scored, the match was over and the Portuguese were still furious. (They had no right to be angry, however, as the Portuguese defender clearly put out his arm to stop the ball near the goal. It was a clear penalty.)

The Europeans hope that their method, which would have been used for the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow last season, is a form of compromise.

There is no golden goal; there is an opportunity for the team that goes behind in extra time to equalize; but the match will not continue for the whole of the 30 minutes' extra time if one team is ahead at the end of the first period of extra time.

For example, Real Madrid and Olimpia may be level 1-1 after 90 minutes.

Real could score in the first period of extra time, Olimpia could equalize and then Real could score again, all in the first period of extra time. When the whistle blew to end the first period of extra time, Real would be in front 3-2 and the match would be over.

Is this a good idea?

Personally, I like sudden-death extra time to decide knockout cup matches (not league matches).

After all, the teams have had 90 minutes to win the match.

If one team scores first, they deserve to win. Why should the other team be given a chance to equalize?

There are many debates around the world on how to end a match if the scores are level after 90 minutes, so it's worth checking out the Toyota Cup format this time.

Although the biggest surprise of all will be if Real Madrid have not won inside 90 minutes.

ends

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Troussier switches off from Japan, prepares for surgeon's knife

24 Oct 2002(Thu)

No, he hasn't watched the Japan-Jamaica game.

And no, he is not interested in managing a club or a national team before next year.

Philippe Troussier, for the time being at least, is happy to stay at home and keep out of the limelight.

"I haven't seen it, and I don't want to see it," Troussier said about Japan's first match under Zico last Wednesday.

"I need a break for six months and I do not want to talk about Japan. I have refused all proposals to talk about Japan. Only after six months will I wake up."

The most pressing business on Troussier's mind now is his appointment with the surgeon's knife in Paris at the start of next month.

"I have decided to have surgery on my right knee and I will need two months of rehabilitation," he added.

"It's an old problem dating back to when I was a player 20 years ago, and it's time to clean up the knee.

"Sometimes I have some pain, but it's not a big problem. I think I'm just getting old."

Troussier left Japan in July after steering the national team into the second round of the World Cup.

Since then he has been inundated with offers from clubs and national associations, but says he is in no hurry to make his next move.

"This is why I have said 'no' to Ipswich Town last week, to China, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, Iran and Saudi Arabia," said the 47-year-old Frenchman.

"There was also some contact with Sunderland and Standard Liege, and three days ago from Croatia's national team.

"I wasn't interested in China because it would have been the same challenge I had in Japan for four years. And also they wanted a quick reply, and I said I needed a rest.

"I feel a bit like a lion in a cage, with my wife as the trainer, but at the moment I'm a lion with three legs.

"After six months I will be in good shape to fight everybody," he joked.

A return to Japan has been penciled into his diary for early January, when he will give a lecture at the invitation of his previous employers at the Japan Football Association.

Despite saying he needed a break from talking about Japan, Troussier was aware that the Urawa Reds were top of the first division, and was keen to learn of the form of Mitsuo Ogasawara, the young Kashima Antlers midfielder he selected in his World Cup squad at the expense of fan favorite Shunsuke Nakamura.

"I am not surprised about Urawa Reds because they have good offensive potential," he said.

"It's good to see other teams at the top."

He picked out Urawa Reds striker Yuichiro Nagai as one to watch.

"He was one of the best players in my youth team in Nigeria in 1999 and scored a beautiful goal in the semifinal against Uruguay. I also picked him in my group of 40 players because I think he can be a very special player in the national team.

"Ogasawara, too, is a very nice player, with a good attitude. He is a very interesting player for the future."

Troussier was speaking from his home in Paris, and will spend his rehab in Rabat, Morocco.

ends

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Zico needs time, maybe help in new job

20 Oct 2002(Sun)

There are two ways to analyze Zico's first match as Japan's national coach, the 1-1 draw with Jamaica.

The first is to congratulate him on having the courage to field his four "golden men"--namely Hidetoshi Nakata, Shunsuke Nakamura, Shinji Ono and Junichi Inamoto.

They are four very talented players, and Zico let them all loose at the same time to see what happened. He gave the players themselves the responsibility of finding a pattern, trusting in their ability and experience.

In short, it was an experiment, and there was nothing to lose.

The second way to look at Japan's performance was to say that it was a mess, lacking rhythm, cohesion and a tactical strategy. Philippe Troussier would have been shocked to hear Zico's advice to the midfield four: "Be flexible, and change positions amongst yourselves during the match."

This was the Zico way, but it wasn't the Troussier way as the Frenchman built a solid, disciplined team that ran like clockwork. Replace one part and the engine would continue to run smoothly.

Under Troussier, team work was first and foremost, and only when a player understood his responsibility to the team order could he have the freedom to show some of his individual flair. This is why Troussier took a long time to warm to Hidetoshi Nakata, because he felt he was too much of a one-man show.

(Personally, I never felt this about Nakata. I always thought the biggest problem was that Nakata's level was so much higher than that of his teammates, and other players could not read his moves or his passes.)

It was not a good start by Japan, as Zico gave himself very little time to prepare a new strategy with some players who had been out of the team for a few years, notably Akira Narahashi and Yutaka Akita.

What I have always been worried about with Zico's appointment is his lack of coaching experience.

He may be a celebrity, he may have been a great player for Brazil, he may be more media friendly than Troussier, but does this make him a good coach?

Of course he needs time, just like Troussier did, but their situations are different in that Troussier was rebuilding the team after the France World Cup. Zico does not have to do this, as he has inherited a group of talented and experienced internationals.

Zico has to prove he can take the team to the next level, and his lack of planning and strategy for the Jamaica game, other than simply sending out what he regarded as his best players, suggests he has some thinking to do.

Argentina is the next test, on November 20, and if Zico does not make progress in this game, then maybe he needs help on the coaching side.

After all, at Kashima Antlers he has always been the Technical Director overseeing the manager/coach, rather than actually working with the players day in, day out.

I don't want to sound too pessimistic about the first game, as maybe it was just an experiment, but I firmly follow Troussier's philosophy that the best players do not necessarily make the best team.

There must be balance, discipline and strategy.

ends

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China's coach hails the "new Gon"

17 Oct 2002(Thu)

China's head coach, Shen Xiangfu, believes Japan can go all the way to the Athens Olympics thanks to the new Nakayama.

For the past decade, Jubilo Iwata's Masashi "Gon" Nakayama has been a mainstay of the national squad, playing in two World Cups.

But Shen feels that in the Asian Games' under-23 tournament, Japan has unearthed another striker of the same name and just as effective: Satoshi Nakayama.

The 20-year-old Gamba Osaka forward scored a total of five goals in the under-21 team's run to the silver medal.

After failing to score in Japan's Group D opener against Palestine, Nakayama then netted in five consecutive games, against Bahrain, Uzbekistan, China, Thailand and Iran.

His goal and his performance in leading a three-strong attack against China in the quarterfinals at Masan City left a deep impression on Shen.

"Japan's team work and organization is very good," Shen said.

"When you also consider the technique of each individual player, this makes them very difficult to play against."

Shen said it was hard to pick out individual players.

"Almost every player in the Japanese team is the same level, but if I had to choose one who particularly impressed me then that was the No. 19, Nakayama.

"He covers a lot of ground all across the forward line and never stops running. He also scored an excellent goal against China to beat us; that was an expert finish."

China had gone into the quarterfinal against Japan as the favorite, having beaten Japan 1-0 in Shanghai in August. Both teams were fielding their under-21 teams in Pusan to prepare for next year's Asian qualifying campaign for the Athens Olympics in 2004.

Shen said there was very little to choose between the two teams, and it could have been 1-0 to China just as easily as it was to Japan at Masan.

"A coach cannot do a lot to improve his team so much in just one month; it's impossible," he added.

"So the difference was in the quality of shooting.

"China had 17 shots and could not score once, while Japan had only five in the game, and Nakayama scored.

"If our shooting had been better, the result would have changed."

Shen spent eight years, from 1988 to 1995, playing and coaching in Japan with the Fujitsu club, now known as Kawasaki Frontale.

"At that time we were only part-time players, not professional, and the level of the Japanese players has improved a lot since then," he said.

"I think and hope that both China and Japan can qualify for the Athens Olympics."

On the way home from Pusan on Tuesday, I bumped into the Iranian team at Gimhae Airport before they took a flight to Tehran.

The Japanese players they were impressed with were Nakayama again, and also the captain, Kazuyuki Morisaki, who played very maturely in the center of midfield.

But they said South Korea was a better team than Japan.

Japan will not and should not worry about that, however, as they came home with the silver medals. The Koreans won only the bronze.

ends

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Abe emerges as natural leader

13 Oct 2002(Sun)

The improvement in Japan's young lions has been evident as the team has progressed through the Asian Games, all the way to Sunday's final against Iran.

None more so than Yuki Abe.

The 21-year-old JEF United Ichihara player has made his mark as a central midfielder, similar in style to Junichi Inamoto, in the J.League.

But here in Busan, Abe has stepped in to cover for the injured captain and libero, Takeshi Aoki, who was hurt in the physical 1-0 victory over Uzbekistan last Saturday.

Against China in the quarterfinals (1-0) and Thailand in the semifinals (3-0), Japan have not conceded a single goal.

This is due to excellent team defending, which starts with the forwards putting pressure on the opposition defenders and thereby making it easier for Japan's midfielders to regain possession of the ball. Keita Suzuki has excelled in this role, and thoroughly deserved his spectacular goal against Thailand which virtually settled the match.

Suzuki is not a leader, though; not yet, anyway.

But at the back, Abe has emerged quickly as a natural and inspiring player.

Against Thailand he was Japan's best player, staying concentrated and committed during some casual play by his teammates in the early stages of the game.

On one occasion, Hikaru Mita lost the ball in midfield, but Abe rescued the situation with a well-timed covering tackle.

In the second half, the Thais continued to push forward, but Abe proved to be a giant in the air, too, winning many valuable headers in and around his own penalty box.

After the game against Uzbekistan, I spoke to one of the Asian Football Confederation's technical delegates, Kwok Ka Ming, a former national coach of Hong Kong and very respected in coaching circles.

He praised Japan's technique and organization, but said they lacked a leader on the pitch and this could prove to be vital later in the tournament.

Indeed, against Thailand the Japanese players were silent for long spells as the Thais constantly encouraged each other.

The Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium was nearly deserted, so it was easy to hear what was going on down on the field.

From the Japanese point of view, this was not much at all, as all the noise was being made by the Thais.

Philippe Troussier always used to comment on the lack of talking and communication within the team, and would frequently encourage the players to start shouting and talking during training when the atmosphere was silent.

Communication is a vital part of the game, and Japan's youngsters are still learning this.

In Abe, they have found someone who can lead, and his presence in the center of defense has proved to be invaluable.

ends

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Zico goes for flair, but do so many stars make a team?

10 Oct 2002(Thu)

Zico's first national team squad, announced in Tokyo on Monday, was predictable for one thing: the number of "star" players he chose.

His predecessor, Philippe Troussier, preferred a team without stars; a functional team with players who would do their job in a professional, business-like way.

Zico's philosophy is clearly the opposite: he will pick the best players and then pick his team.

Troussier's policy was to pick players to fit his system, and that the best players did not always make the best team.

This is why Shunsuke Nakamura was left out of the World Cup.

Troussier thought there was no room for him, with Shinji Ono, Toshihiro Hattori and Alex all competing for the place on the left side of midfield, and Hidetoshi Nakata, Hiroaki Morishima and Mitsuo Ogasawara his first three choices for the attacking midfield role.

Therefore, even though Shunsuke was immensely popular with fans, the media and sponsors alike, Troussier remained true to his philosophy and did not pick him.

It is also indicative of the difference in thought process that Zico omitted two players who were Troussier men through and through: Kazuyuki Toda and Tomokazu Myojin.

Troussier once said that his perfect team would consist of eight Myojins, players who would do their job without any frills or star quality, and three players who could make the difference to the team and the result.

Zico will build his team without one Myojin, never mind eight!

The recall of Hiroshi Nanami was also predictable, even though there is no way Zico can find a place for Nanami, Nakamura, Alex and Ono in the same team.

Of course Zico's selections will make the fans and the media happy, as well as JFA president Saburo Kawabuchi, who loves to promote star names.

But will it lead to a balanced team?

He cannot put all these admittedly talented players on the pitch at the same time, so has Zico got the tactical knowledge to get the best out of the whole squad?

On the pitch, could there be too many player egos fighting for the spotlight instead of fighting for each other?

I was very happy to see the recall of Akira Narahashi, even though I think Yasuhiro Hato was again unlucky to be overlooked.

Narahashi has been the best right-back in Japan for the last six years or so, and it was a puzzle to me why Troussier never considered him for the role on the right side of his five-man midfield.

I agree that sometimes he loses his discipline, both in the tackle and in when choosing his moment to go forward, but he is hard and aggressive and will play with pride and with a lion's heart.

The players are there to entertain.

But is the system there to win football matches?

ends

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Football can still learn from other sports

6 Oct 2002(Sun)

Football is the greatest game, of course, but this does not mean it is perfect.

Far from it.

I feel football can still learn from other sports, and being here in Pusan, watching the Asian Games, makes this even more obvious.

The other day I went to see Japan play India at men's hockey.

This is a very similar game to football in terms of team and tactics. There are 11 players in a team, including the goalkeeper, and there are defensive liberos, man-markers, midfield playmakers and ace strikers.

There is also defense, midfield and attack, so it's very easy for football fans to watch hockey.

What I liked best about the game, though, was the use of substitutions.

I don't know about you, but I get fed up of watching football teams use substitutions to halt the flow of the game, late in the game.

How many times have you seen a team which is leading 1-0, or holding on for an important draw, send on one substitute with a couple of minutes to go, and then another in injury time when there is only seconds remaining.

Of course this is in the rules, but the whole game stops for 30 seconds or so as the team brings off the player on the far side of the pitch, and he takes an age to walk over to the dugout and shake hands with the player coming on before the game can restart.

Why does the whole game have to wait for this charade?

Football can therefore learn from hockey.

When a hockey player wants to enter the field, he leaves his team bench and heads for the halfway line carrying a sign with the number of the player the team wants to substitute.

The player whose number is being held up runs to the side, takes the sign and the substitute runs on.

The game never stops!

It is the responsibility of the player being substituted to get off the pitch as quickly as possible so his team can have 11 men.

I thought this system worked really well, and it would be interesting to see it tested in a football match. I am sure it would stop all the time-wasting and the gamesmanship and keep the game moving in the closing stages.

Another sport football can learn from is rugby, which is being played here in the seven-a-side version and the full 15-a-side version.

Rugby is a hard, fast and very physical sport, and injuries occur regularly.

But in rugby, when a player is injured badly enough to need treatment, the team doctor can come on to the pitch and have a look at him, even though play is still going on around.

Again this would be a useful exercise in football, to stop players from conning the referee by faking injury. Again, the whole game stops in football to attend to one player who is often not hurt at all.

Yes, football is still the best game in the world.

But it is not without its problems.

ends

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Palestine: a disgrace to the game

3 Oct 2002(Thu)

Yes, of course we felt sorry for the Palestine football team.

After all, when they played Japan in the Asian Games last Saturday, there were only 16 players on the team sheet.

Japan had 20, the maximum number allowed.

Palestine were four players short because they were not allowed through Israeli check points back in their troubled home land.

Of the 16 players who did make it to South Korea, there was only one professional from the Jordan League.

Some 90 per cent of the rest lived in the West Bank under curfew, which prevented them from training like the other teams in the tournament.

One of the players, we were told after Japan had beaten Palestine 2-0, had just had his home demolished by Israeli bulldozers.

The Israelis had given him and his family of 16 only 20 minutes to get their modest belongings together and leave, before it was demolished.

So this was the background to the Japan match, and puts life in perspective when we complain in Japan about the train being delayed for a few minutes.

But it was impossible to feel anything but contempt for the Palestinian football players in the match against Japan.

They kicked off with only one aim: to take a point from a 0-0 draw.

They played with only one striker, but there is nothing unusual in this, but the way they went about trying to deny Japan made for unpleasant viewing.

The goalkeeper stayed on the ground at every opportunity, feigning injury, and the weak referee from South Korea, under pressure from the goalkeeper's teammates, had no alternative but to call for the medical team.

This is a common tactic of west Asian teams. When the pressure is on, the goalkeeper goes down and stays down. How can the match continue with the keeper lying in the middle of his penalty box?

The keeper also wasted time as much as possible, just standing with the ball at his feet as the Japanese forwards retreated to the halfway line, waiting for him to kick it. Eventually, a Japanese player ran towards him, forcing him to pick up the ball and get play moving.

All around the field, Palestinian players were rolling around in apparent agony after the slightest contact with a Japanese player. It was a shambles of a match, and a disgrace to the spirit of the Asian Games.

In the end, Japan won well with second-half goals from Tatsuya Tanaka and Yuichi Nemoto.

Just as importantly, they kept their discipline and their concentration as Palestine's players continued with their behavior...but only until Tanaka's opening goal on 67 minutes.

Strangely enough, the nonsense stopped after this, because Palestine had to come out and try and equalize.

It was a good lesson for the Japanese youngsters as they enter the cynical world of international football.

But it was painful to watch.

ends

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