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November 2002

Jean's a big hit for FC Tokyo

28 Nov 2002(Thu)

Operating on one of the smallest budgets in the first division, FC Tokyo have to be careful and convinced when they sign a new player.

In Brazilian central defender Jean, they have one of the most under-rated foreign players in the league this season.

The 25-year-old has had an outstanding debut season in the Tokyo blue after joining the club from Bahia FC to replace libero Sandro.

At Tokyo Stadium last Sunday, for example, Jean was magnificent in the heart of the Tokyo defense as the home team beat Urawa Reds 1-0 in extra time.

Urawa's much-vaunted Brazilian strikeforce of Emerson and Tuto rarely got a sight of goal thanks to the determined defensive work of Jean and Teruyuki Moniwa, who shows great promise for a 21-year-old.

Defense starts much further forward, though, in any team, and Tokyo's forwards and midfielders also contributed to a solid team performance in an exciting spectacle watched by a crowd of over 36,000.

Jean was more than satisfied with Tokyo's performance in particular, and with his first season in Japan in general.

"First I concentrated on fitting into the team, then on fitting into the J.League," said the modest Jean.

"It has been my first season in Japan, so I've had to concentrate hard on my own performance in every game.

"If we all do that, the results will be good, and that is what happened."

After 14 of the 15 second-stage games, FC Tokyo are fourth in the table on 22 points, 10 behind newly-crowned champions Jubilo Iwata. Gamba Osaka are second on 27 and Kashima Antlers third on 23.

In the final round of games Saturday, Tokyo are away to Kashima.

"It's important to go there and win because we want to finish as high up in the table as possible," added Jean.

As for the future, he said: "We have a lot of young players in the team and they will improve with experience.

"On top of that, we can all improve our individual quality.

"The manager (Hiromi Hara) has a concept of solid defense and counterattack, and we have followed that well this season to become a strong team.

"We all believe in the manager's concept and this enables us to produce a good performance on the pitch."

It's unlikely that Jean will be among the J.League Best XI on the annual awards night on December 16, but FC Tokyo fans know he is one of the best defenders in the league.

And so do Tuto and Emerson.


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Prince Takamado's death is a huge blow to Japan

24 Nov 2002(Sun)

The sudden and tragic death of Prince Takamado is a massive loss for Japanese soccer, according to the man who sparked the young prince's interest in the game, Shun-ichiro Okano.

Prince Takamado, who died of a heart attack suffered while playing squash on Thursday, had been the honorary patron of the Japan Football Association since 1987.

But he had followed the game for many years before that.

I interviewed Prince Takamado at his Akasaka residence last December, and he recalled how, as an elementary school student, he watched Mitsubishi Diamond Soccer on Japanese TV, hosted by Okano.

From that point on, the sports-loving prince always viewed Okano as the voice of Japanese soccer, and the two became firm friends later in life.

"Prince Takamado contributed very much to the progress of Japanese football, so I was really shocked by his sudden passing away," said Okano, a former president of the JFA.

"He was so active in many sports, not only football, and also in music and the arts. He had so many interests in culture and sports."

Okano said Prince Takamado worked tirelessly to support Japan's bid for the 2002 World Cup, frequently hosting receptions for visiting dignitaries.

"During the World Cup, Prince Takamado attended 19 games, which was the highest number of anyone in Japanese football," he said.

"I visited 18, and sat next to Prince Takamado on many occasions.

"I remember watching the Japan-Tunisia game at Osaka. When Japan won to qualify for the second round, he stood up, raised both arms in the air and we embraced each other.

"At the World Cup final, we sat behind our Emperor and Empress and the president of Korea, Kim Dae Jung, and his wife. It was a very proud moment."

The 2002 World Cup, Prince Takamado said, gave cohosts Japan and Korea a wonderful opportunity to improve mutual understanding and respect.

"The most important thing for the World Cup is to restore the relationship between Korea and Japan, which has been somewhat distorted for the past half a century," he said.

"It is a very good chance for both countries to realize they are equally important and influential in Asia and in the world. We should go hand in hand in cooperating and propelling the Asian culture and economy into the 21st Century."

Looking back on the prince's life, Okano added: "I have many wonderful memories of Prince Takamado. We played football together, chatted together and also had many serious discussions about the future of Japanese football.

"He is a big loss, a very big loss, to the JFA."

For Japan in general and Japanese soccer in particular, World Cup year has ended on a very sad and tragic note.

To have such loyal support so high in Japanese society helped give the game more profile.

His role in the rise of Japanese soccer should not be under-estimated.


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Argentina: still one of the world's best

19 Nov 2002(Tue)

It will be interesting to see how Japan tackle Argentina at Saitama Stadium on Wednesday night.

In theory, Japan should be the more confident, the more adventurous team.

After all, Japan reached the second round of the World Cup in June; they are playing at home in front of another big and noisy crowd; and they have extra motivation to win for national coach Zico, who returned home to Brazil on Sunday following the death of his mother.

Argentina were one of the World Cup's biggest flops, along with France. They won only one game, 1-0 against Nigeria; lost the "big one" 1-0 to England; they went home after the first round; and their preparations for this first post-World Cup game have been non-existent.

I attended the Argentina training session at Nishigaoka Stadium in Tokyo on Monday night. Only 10 players were there, including one goalkeeper, and the training consisted of jogging, stretching and kicking the ball about in a small circle of players.

On top of that, Pablo Aimar and Juan Roman Riquelme will be missing because of injury, so head coach Marcelo Bielsa's plans were further disrupted.

So will Japan attack, or will they be cautious against Argentina's talented team?

If I were Japan's head coach (and doesn't every football fan want to play this role?), I would adopt the latter approach.

Despite their World Cup failings, scoring only two goals, I still think Argentina are one of the strongest teams in the world.

I thought they were the best team at the 1994 World Cup, and could have gone on to win if it had not been for Diego Maradona's drug abuse.

In 1998, exhausted after that second-round epic against England, they were very unlucky to lose to a majestic Dennis Bergkamp goal in the quarterfinals at Marseille.

This year they played some wonderful attacking football, but incredibly could not produce the goals despite their galaxy of star strikers: Batistuta, Crespo, Ortega, Claudio Lopez, Veron, Aimar...the list goes on.

At the other end they conceded only two goals--David Beckham's penalty and Anders Svensson's brilliant free kick for Sweden--and their defense should be even stronger in Japan with the return of captain and libero Roberto Ayala, who missed all three World Cup games because of injury.

Japan, playing under Masakuni Yamamoto in Zico's absence, should be well organized this time, especially with two defensive midfielders in Takashi Fukunishi and Koji Nakata, although they will desperately miss the presence and calming influence of Hidetoshi Nakata, Shinji Ono and Junichi Inamoto.

I think Japan will do well to avoid defeat. A draw would be a fantastic result for Japan, but Argentina would not be satisfied with this, unlike Italy a year ago at the same venue when they were happy to return home with pride in tact.

Argentina have a point to prove, meaning this is a terribly difficult match for Japan.


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Takahara advised to follow Ono to Holland

18 Nov 2002(Mon)

Japan's top striker Naohiro Takahara has been advised to follow in the footsteps of Shinji Ono, and head for Holland.

The 23-year-old forward has scored 24 goals for Jubilo Iwata this season and was named MVP of the first stage.

It is rumoured that his agent is trying to line up a winter transfer to either Italy or England. Takahara is sponsored by Puma, and this has led to speculation he may be going to Everton, who are also sponsored by the same company.

However, Takahara's Dutch teammate Arno Van Zwam believes the young striker would be better off moving to Holland.

"He is 23 and needs to be playing every week, not sitting on the bench," said the goalkeeper, who has lost his first team place during the second stage.

"I don't think he is the kind of forward for England. He might end up sitting on the bench for one season like Inamoto did at Arsenal, and wasting one year of his career.

"Or he might lose his place in the national team, like Kawaguchi did before the World Cup because he was not playing for Portsmouth."

Van Zwam says he has told Takahara to aim for the Dutch league.

"This would be a good move for him because he would be playing every week.

"Look what's happened to Ono. He won the UEFA Cup in his first season with Feyenoord and now everyone in the football world knows him.

"Takahara could play for one or two seasons in Holland and then maybe move to Spain or Italy. By then he would still be only 25, so he has a long career ahead of him.

"The time is right for Takahara to go overseas, not to South America this time but to Europe. If he is smart he should go."

Takahara had an unhappy time with Boca Juniors in Argentina, scoring only one league goal, and also missed the World Cup due to a lung infection.

But he has shown tremendous character to fight back and is now the J.League's leading scorer and on course to be named the season's MVP, following teammate Toshiya Fujita.

Everton have shown they are quite prepared to hire Asian players. The Merseyside club has two Chinese World Cup players in midfielder Li Tie and defender Li Weifeng.

Everton's strikers include 17-year-old wonder boy Wayne Rooney, Canadian Tomas Radzinski and the burly Kevin Campbell, so Takahara would not command a first-team place every week.


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Zico continues to surprise

14 Nov 2002(Thu)

I am very surprised by some of Zico's selections, and by his method.

I attended his press conference in Tokyo on Monday afternoon and left feeling quite bemused.

First, I am amazed that he announced his team for the friendly against Argentina on November 20, just like he did before the Jamaica game.

Most national coaches do not name the team until the day of the game.

Sometimes it is to keep the opposition in the dark, to keep them guessing.

On other occasions it is to keep his own players on their toes, to keep them motivated and committed.

The fact that Zico has already named his starting lineup may take some of the energy out of the training and preparation.

For example, two bright young prospects in Keisuke Tsuboi and Yasuhito Endo already know they will not be starting the match.

I wonder if this affects their attitude in training.

If they thought they had a chance of playing, maybe they would be more intense in their preparation. Perhaps they will not be as sharp now as they would have been if they'd thought they still had a chance of making the starting lineup.

Of course the media will be very grateful to Zico for announcing his starting lineup so early, but this does not mean it is prudent of a coach to do so.

Argentina's Marcelo Bielsa will also be very grateful, as he can select his team accordingly.

I cannot imagine Bielsa fielding anything other than an attacking lineup when looking at the quality of the players. His squad is frightening, and Japan will need to have high motivation and strong tactical discipline to hold Argentina at Saitama Stadium.

On the selection front, the recall of Eisuke Nakanishi, at 29, highlights the shortage of natural fullbacks in Japan as many teams play 3-5-2 rather than 4-4-2.

Nakanishi had a fine game for Japan against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup in France, playing on the right side of Takeshi Okada's back three, alongside Masami Ihara and Yutaka Akita on the left.

I remember Nakanishi marking Claudio Lopez out of the game, and that is a fine achievement.

For JEF United, Nakanishi can play in any of the three defensive positions, but again he is playing in a back three and not as an orthodox fullback. It will be interesting to see him at leftback, as he is naturally a right-footed player.

I cannot understand why Zico recalled Yoshiharu Ueno, especially as he will play Takashi Fukunishi and Koji Nakata as the two defensive midfielders.

If Ueno is not going to play, I thought it would have been better to bring in a youngster who could benefit from the experience, such as Yuki Abe.

However, the fact that Zico will play two defensive midfielders is an encouraging sign, as Jamaica gained the upper hand in this department in Zico's first match as national coach.

Japan's forwards look strong, and will need to be decisive in front of goal when they get their chances.

It will be a very hard match for Japan against a highly motivated Argentina team, and Zico's coaching expertise will face a severe test.


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Bad planning leaves Sanfrecce in trouble

10 Nov 2002(Sun)

With only four rounds of J.League games left, Sanfrecce Hiroshima are in terrible trouble near the bottom of the table.

Consadole Sapporo have already been relegated with only 10 points, and Sanfrecce (19 points) seem certain to join them as they trailed Vissel Kobe and Kashiwa Reysol by seven points after 26 of the 30 league games.

Seven points is a huge gap to close, especially when there are only 12 more points to play for before the end of the season.

So this weekend offers Sanfrecce a last realistic chance to save their season.

On Saturday they are at home to Vissel Kobe, who will be without suspended Brazilian playmaker Harison. The following day, Reysol must take on Jubilo Iwata away without the suspended trio of Tomokazu Myojin, Kensuke Nebiki and Tomonori Hirayama.

So Sanfrecce have a great chance to close the gap on the two teams above them and hang on to their J1 status, which they have held since the J.League kicked off in 1993.

I believe Sanfrecce's problems began before the season even started.

They were very slow to hire foreign players, and only one, the big Cameroon defender Michel Bilong, has truly established himself in the team.

The young defender Tulio Tanaka is also classed as an overseas player, but the overall quality of the foreign players is simply not good enough to give the team a solid backbone.

Jubilo Iwata have proved that you don't need star foreign players if your Japanese players are good enough, but Sanfrecce's are not in the same class as Jubilo's in all departments of the team.

So clubs can learn a valuable lesson from Sanfrecce's poor planning in terms of player recruitment.

I will be sad to see Sanfrecce go down.

They have always been an attractive team to watch, playing nice football on the ground and showing good tactical discipline.

Tatsuhiko Kubo has had his problems this season, leading to only six goals, but he remains a dangerous and aggressive center forward. I still think Philippe Troussier made a mistake in not picking him for the World Cup squad.

I would have picked Kubo ahead of Akinori Nishizawa, as he offers something different and would have been useful against Turkey when Japan needed lifting.

I also admire Chikara Fujimoto, a clever and eye-catching player whose skills have not gone unnoticed in Europe.

The young midfielder Kazuyuki Morisaki made a big impression during the Asian Games in Pusan, captaining the team after injury to Takeshi Aoki, and wing-back Yuichi Komano was also a member of the squad.

Sanfrecce have been affected by injuries, too, especially to defender Kenichi Uemura earlier in the season, but this is part and parcel of the game. Every team suffers injuries, so it's important to have a strong squad and strong leadership on the pitch.

Talking to club official Shigeru Manabe this week, he said the relegation problems had crept up on them slowly, as they had always managed to lift themselves out of trouble in previous seasons.

Suddenly, Sanfrecce's plight was desperate, as no one at the club ever thought they would be sucked into the relegation battle.

But it has happened.

The problems, however, started at the end of last season when the club was slow to organize the team for this season.

The club is still suffering because of this.


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Antlers prove their professionalism again

7 Nov 2002(Thu)

All the pre-match talk had been focused on Urawa Reds' first appearance in a cup final.

But anyone predicting a romantic ending to the Nabisco Cup would have been left with a red face, as Kashima Antlers proved their quality and ruthless professionalism yet again.

Although neutral observers may have felt sorry for the Reds and their loyal fans, there was no questioning the superiority of Kashima on the big day.

Antlers' Brazilian manager Toninho Cerezo took a huge risk by fielding five players who had not been fit to start the team's previous league game, against Consadole Sapporo on Oct. 27.

The five were right-back Akira Narahashi, central defender Fabiano, midfielders Mitsuo Ogasawara and Masashi Motoyama and striker Euller.

Before the game it seemed that Toninho's tactics were to play his strongest side for as long as possible, and then start making substitutions as the match progressed and the returning players grew tired.

But Kashima's starting lineup remained in tact for 87 minutes, when Motoyama was replaced by the more defensive Jun Uchida. A couple of minutes later, Yoshiyuki Hasegawa went on for Euller.

Toninho's tactics had worked triumphantly, as the experienced Antlers players tamed Reds' explosive attacking partnership of Emerson and Tuto.

Tuto had a poor game, squandering Urawa's one clear chance presented on a plate by a mistake from Akita, while Kashima defended superbly against the pace of Emerson.

In desperation, Urawa's Dutch manager Hans Ooft sent on the former Antlers defender Ichiei Muroi after 78 minutes and decided to attack Kashima in the air rather than on the ground.

This made it easier for Kashima to defend their lead, as danger man Emerson hardly saw the ball in the closing stages when his pace could have troubled the tiring Antlers defenders.

It was a perfect team performance from Kashima, epitomized by the central midfield duo of Yasuto Honda and Koji Nakata.

These two keep the team ticking over, picking up a lot of loose balls in midfield and usually settling for the easy pass rather than the ambitious one in order to retain possession.

Surely national coach Zico must realize that Koji Nakata deserves a place in central midfield for the visit of Argentina on Nov. 20, as he brings balance and shape to the team.

Ogasawara proved to be the match-winner once again against Urawa, although his shot took a cruel deflection off Masami Ihara for the only goal of the game after 59 minutes.

He is a clever, determined and confident midfield schemer, much admired by former national coach Philippe Troussier. In fact, the Frenchman likes him so much that if he takes over a European club in the new year, expect him to be calling Kashima to sign Ogasawara and maybe Nakata, too.

They will be a big loss to Kashima, but looking at their squad, the replacements are there already.


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About "Mixed feelings over Emerson for Japan (9/16) "

5 Nov 2002(Tue)

My article was written based on an interview with Emerson I read in the Daily Yomiuri. I also spoke in detail to the author.

If Emerson was not eligible to play for Japan because he had played for Brazil, surely he would have known this fact wouldn't he???

My understanding is that a player who has played for his national team up to the age level of under-21 cannot then play for another country.

Did Emerson play for Brazil Under-21s or for the youth team??? If he played for the youth team, he is still eligible to play for Japan.

Like Ryan Giggs. Did you know that Ryan Giggs played for England Schoolboys under the name of Ryan Wilson, then changed his name to Ryan Giggs to take his mother's family name after his mother and father divorced. To annoy his father even more, he took his mother's nationality and played for Wales rather than England.

My point was: if a player comes over here in good faith, for example, Alex, and earns the right to turn Japanese, then fine.

What I was trying to say was that it would be bad policy if Japan tried to import Brazilian players and then gave them citizenship quickly so they could play for Japan. I think Japan would lose its identity.

And Consadole did want to keep Emerson, because Oka-chan told me personally. They could not afford to because his wage demands were huge after such an incredible season.

I will have to check on Emerson's background, but from reading his comments, surely he would know or not if he were eligible to play for Japan. Clearly he thinks he is.

Anyway, it's nice to read so much feedback!!!

Best wishes, Jeremy Walker

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S-Pulse's "Air Baron" fears for his future

3 Nov 2002(Sun)

S-Pulse's "baron of the skies" is considering his future outside of Shimizu after being left on the sidelines for much of the season.

The 1.86-meter Brazilian center forward has proved his value in the air during his four J1 seasons, two with JEF United Ichihara and two with S-Pulse.

But S-Pulse's Yugoslav manager, Zdravko Zemunovic, feels Baron's heading ability is not part of the Shimizu game plan.

The coach prefers a more patient, passing game involving lots of movement off the ball. If Baron is selected to lead the attack, it would encourage the other players to hit the long ball to the big target man, and S-Pulse would lose their identity.

This is the feeling of Zemunovic, but naturally Baron does not agree.

The 28-year-old striker, who has scored a respectable 51 goals in 111 J1 appearances since 1999, feels there is no reason why he could not spearhead the attack.

In fact he thinks it would be the perfect combination to have Alessandro Santos to his left and Ahn Jung Hwan to his right, a trio combining speed, skill on the ground and power in the air.

"It's a big shame for me I am not in the team, because this is the first time in my career I have been on the bench for so long," said Baron this week, after a five-minute appearance as a substitute in a 1-0 defeat at Kashiwa.

"I am trying to take it like experience, and trying to be positive, but I cannot find anything," he admitted, honestly.

"I think we can play together as three top, with the other two players working behind me."

Baron is so uncertain of the future that he is already preparing for the worst.

"The contract talks begin at the end of November; that's when they decide if they want you to stay," he said.

"At the moment I am not in the team, so I do not know what they are thinking. Maybe they are not going to hire me again next year."

If S-Pulse do decide to release Baron, he has no intention of moving too far away.

"I would be happy to stay in Japan," he said.

With his goals record and his knowledge of Japanese language and the J.League, he still has something to offer in terms of heading ability and power in the air as an old-fashioned leader of the line.


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