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February 2003

Ko will miss Super Cup

27 Feb 2003(Thu)

Kyoto Purple Sanga's new signing from South Korea, Ko Jong Su, has been ruled out of Saturday's Xerox Super Cup against Jubilo Iwata, and will miss the start of the new league season, too.

According to the club's German manager, Gert Engels, Ko is not in good shape and struggling to keep up with his new teammates at the Kagoshima training camp.

The 24-year-old playmaker, whose career has been affected by a serious knee injury, was signed to replace 2002 World Cup hero Park Ji Sung, who has joined Dutch club PSV Eindhoven.

But Kyoto's fans will have to wait a few weeks longer before the former Suwon Blue Wings star will be ready to challenge for a place in the first team.

"He still has to build up his physical condition, and we kope the knee is going to be okay," said Engels, whose team won the Emperor's Cup last season to qualify for the Super Cup against the reigning league champions at the National Stadium in Tokyo.

"I don't think he trained for a couple of months before joining us, so he's a little bit overweight.

"But he is not old, and I hope he will recover and gain strength and power."

Ko was Korea's equivalent of Shunsuke Nakamura, with a brilliant left foot, deadly at corners and free kicks, and a pin-up for the female fans.

At the age of 19 he appeared in all three of Korea's games at the 1998 World Cup in France, twice as a substitute, but he was not chosen for last year's squad by Dutch coach Guus Hiddink due to the knee injury.

Engels is well aware of Ko's qualities.

"He is a good player, that's for sure," he said.

"He has a good touch with his left foot, a good shot and has good ideas.

"He is a classic game-maker, but our team requires more movement and running. He is working hard, and is aware that we do not like players who play only offense."

Kyoto's opening J1 game is a Kansai derby at home to Gamba Osaka on March 23, and the league then takes a break due to the national team's two-match tour to the United States. Engels hopes Ko will be ready for when the league resumes in early April.

Engels insisted that reports that Ko would be paid $800,000 for the year were way off the mark, and the figure is much lower.

But still, it looks like a heavy gamble by Kyoto to pay so much to a player whose long-term future is far from secure.

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Dunga warns Jubilo of struggle ahead

23 Feb 2003(Sun)

Jubilo Iwata's technical adviser and former captain, Dunga, is confident his struggling team can get it right in time for the new J.League season on March 21.

But he has warned the players it will be much harder to defend the championship this year than it was to win both stages last season.

Jubilo, under new manager Masaaki Yanagishita, have been a major disappointment in the A3 Mazda Champions Cup, the inaugural east Asian club tournament that concludes Saturday at National Stadium in Tokyo.

After losing their opening game 2-0 to South Korea's Songnam Ilhwa last Sunday, they went down by the same score against fierce rivals Kashima Antlers on Wednesday.

Kashima can clinch the championship Saturday, and the $400,000 first prize, with only a draw against Songnam, whereas Jubilo will be fighting for pride against China's Dalian Shide.

Brazil's 1994 World Cup-winning captain said: "It is very important to win this last game because it will give confidence not only to the players but also the manager and supporters.

"I hope our players can express on the field what they have been doing every day in training, especially in shooting from middle distance, say 25 or 20 meters. They also need to change the rhythm of the game."

Commenting on Jubilo's slow start, Dunga said: "It's normal that it will take two or three games, but I think the level is going up in every game and every training session.

"I am confident we will continue to be strong when the league season starts, but it's going to be more difficult this time as the other teams will be more aggressive and enthusiastic when they play against Jubilo.

"Against Kashima there was more good crosses than in the first game, and in the second half there was more speed and we were able to change the tempo.

"But at the moment we need more balance in the team. (Naohiro) Takahara has gone, Nakayama and Nanami didn't play against Kashima, and the youth players need more time to work together and more coordination."

With Takahara now at Hamburg in Germany, Yanagishita has played Norihiro Nishi up front in both Mazda matches.

But Dunga feels that Nishi, usually a right winger, is not the answer to Jubilo's scoring problems.

"Nishi finds it difficult to play with his back to the other goal. He is better when he is facing the goal and he can use his speed and dribbling and shooting ability."

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Captain Koji must lose his 'shy guy' image

20 Feb 2003(Thu)

Koji Nakata has achieved a lot on the football field during his short career.

Nakata is still only 23, but has already represented Japan in the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship in Nigeria, the 2000 Sydney Olympics and the 2002 World Cup.

At club level he has won a succession of domestic titles with Kashima Antlers, whom he joined from Teikyo High School.

In the ongoing A3 Mazda Champions Cup, Nakata's career moved another step forward when Antlers' Brazilian manager, Toninho Cerezo, appointed him captain for his team's opening game against Dalian Shide last Sunday.

After the match, which Antlers won 3-1 in impressive style, Toninho said he had seen Nakata grow from a child to a man since taking over at the club in 2000.

The captaincy, explained Toninho, was to give Nakata more confidence and responsibility, and to prove the manager's trust in him.

Nakata's position in the team, as a defensive midfielder, makes him an ideal choice to be captain. He can see all aspects of play, in defense, midfield and attack, and is at the center of the tactical strategy.

Toninho has praised Nakata's "wide vision and deep insight" into the game, but felt he still had to grow into the role of captain.

The reason?

He is too shy, said Toninho, when I spoke to him Monday after a training session at Nishigaoka Stadium.

"A captain has to talk a lot and be more forceful with his teammates."

Toninho said Nakata would continue as captain in the Mazda tournament, which finishes Saturday, and there was a big chance he would be appointed team skipper for the league season.

Yasuto Honda was captain last season, and his deputy was another veteran Yutaka Akita. With Honda injured, Toninho bypassed Akita and handed Nakata the captain's armband as he looked to the future.

Nakata had an outstanding game, and has developed into one of Japan's most complete players.

He can tackle, pass, score goals, and reads the game well. He learned a lot under Philippe Troussier, who played him on the left side of his three-man defense, and now has vast experience at international level.

Whether Nakata continues as captain for the season remains to be seen.

Toninho will be watching him closely, and encouraging him to be more authoritative and more demanding of his teammates.

But it was a good start last Sunday by Captain Koji.

Another player who is blossoming early is Takeshi Aoki, who played alongside Nakata in Kashima's midfield engine room.

I think Aoki could be a magnificent player. He is tall, strong, comfortable on the ball and with a mature vision of the field. He strides forward effortlessly when in possession, and strokes a pass like an artist with a paint brush on the canvas.

Nakata and Aoki could be a dynamic midfield pairing in what is promising to be an exciting season for Kashima.

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Yanagishita calmly steps into Jubilo hot seat

16 Feb 2003(Sun)

Football managers have very different ways of going about their job.

Some are high-profile, always in the spotlight and always with something to say, such as Philippe Troussier.

Others are low-profile, revealing little of substance to the outside world while keeping a firm grip on the team, such as salary-man lookalike Masakazu Suzuki.

Suzuki was as low-profile as they got, so when he stood down after guiding Jubilo Iwata to the "perfect" championship last season, the news had little impact in the Japanese soccer world.

With a minimum of fuss and no fanfare, Suzuki's assistant, Masaaki Yanagishita, made the step up from head coach to manager of the league champions.

Yanagishita had his first taste of mass media attention in Tokyo on Friday night when he attended the official managers' press conference of the four-team A3 Mazda Champions Cup.

He is young, at 43, but still has vast experience with the club.

From 1993 he has been on the coaching staff, working with the satellite team, the senior team and the youth team, so no one knows the Jubilo players better than him at all levels.

He has vowed to continue to play the attractive, attacking style which swept Jubilo to the first and second stage titles last season, and is experienced enough to acknowledge that one man cannot replace Naohiro Takahara.

Last season, Takahara scored 26 goals in 27 league games to earn the top scorer award and also the J.League MVP honor.

It was no surprise when he headed off to Europe, to join Hamburger SV in northern Germany, but it was a surprise when Jubilo did not buy a replacement.

"That's because Takahara is irreplaceable," Yanagishita admitted Friday night.

So, too, was the veteran striker Masashi Nakayama, said the new manager.

"We have many other players with scoring ability that cannot be replaced by a single player. Therefore, we have to replace Takahara as a team, not as an individual."

Yanagishita mentioned two players who could partner Nakayama in the A3 Mazda Champions Cup.

He could use the Brazilian, Rodrigo Gral, who scored just once in nine appearances last season, or the 20-year-old Yasumasa Nishino, who has made only one league appearance for Jubilo since joining from Toyama No. 1 High School, the same school as Kashima Antlers' Atsushi Yanagisawa.

Nishino is tall at 1.83 meters and sturdy at 79 kilograms, and is already making his mark at Olympic team level.

With Ryoichi Maeda, another talented youngster, also a possibility to start up front alongside Nakayama, new manager Yanagishita will be as interested as anyone to find out what is his best combination in the post-Takahara era.

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JEF president pushes 'attractive' Mochizuki

13 Feb 2003(Thu)

Eisuke Nakanishi has done it. Akira Narahashi has done it. And Yutaka Akita has done it, too.

Done what, you may ask?

The answer, of course, is that they have returned to the national team starting line-up under head coach Zico after a long absence under his predecessor, Philippe Troussier.

According to Kentaro Oka, president of JEF United Ichihara, his new signing Shigeyoshi Mochizuki could be next in line for a recall.

Mochizuki, who has joined JEF from Vissel Kobe, played 15 times for Japan from 1997 to 2001, scoring only one goal.

But it was a very important goal, winning the Asian Cup final for Japan against Saudi Arabia at Beirut, Lebanon, in October 2000.

When asked if he thought the 29-year-old midfielder still had a future with the national team, Oka said: "Yes, I think he has some possibility to be a national player again because his play is very attractive.

"If he does well in the JEF United team, Zico will select him as a member of the national team. I think he has much possibility this season."

Mochizuki, who played for Nagoya Grampus Eight from 1996 to 2000, before joining Kyoto Purple Sanga for a brief spell, is one of JEF's two major winter signings, along with Brazilian midfielder Sandro from Samsung Suwon Bluewings in South Korea.

With a new manager, too, in the vastly experienced Bosnian, Ivica Osim, club chief Oka feels JEF could be ready to win their first trophy since being a founding member of the J.League in 1993.

"We have a new coach, who is very famous and a very good coach, and some new players, especially Mochizuki and Sandro, so I feel our level will be higher than last year," said Oka.

"We surely want to win a championship this season, and I feel we have the most probability to do so."

Certainly JEF look to be very strong in attack.

The big South Korean forward, Choi Yong Soo, returns for his third season, to lead the line with his characteristic aggression and courage.

New manager Osim could play Choi as the lone target man, with Katsutomo Oshiba and Sandro behind him.

With Shinji Murai on the left wing and maybe Naotake Hanyu on the right, this would be a very strong forward line.

Mochizuki and Yuki Abe would provide the defensive stability in midfield, in front of a back three which includes the versatile Nakanishi as well as the Slovenian World Cup defender Zeljko Milinovic.

No wonder Oka feels JEF could make the breakthrough this year, in what is promising to be the most exciting and interesting J.League season on record.

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Is the Confederations Cup really Mickey Mouse?

10 Feb 2003(Mon)

The draw for the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup will take place in France on Wednesday.

This is when Japan will know their fate, and their three first-round opponents for the eight-team tournament in France next June.

But there are many people in the game who will not be looking forward to the draw, or even to the tournament itself, because they feel there is just too much football being played.

Critics of the tournament, which brings together the champion nations of FIFA's six continental federations, plus the World Cup holders (Brazil) and an invited guest (Turkey), would prefer the Confederations Cup to be scrapped.

These include Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, and one of his French stars, Robert Pires.

"Germany, Italy and Spain refused to play in this Mickey Mouse cup," Wenger said this week.

"France will play New Zealand! That is really exciting," he added, very sarcastically.

(This is not a fact, either, as the draw is not until February 12.)

Pires, who was the 2001 Confederations Cup MVP when it was held in South Korea and Japan, has been very critical of the timing of the tournament.

It starts five weeks after the European club season has finished, and Pires says players will risk injury for the new season because they will not be in good condition.

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the 2001 edition in Japan, watching Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Australia and France all play in Japan, I have to agree with Wenger.

There is too much football, and too much demand on the players.

The World Cup gives the players little rest once every four summers, and the European Championship does the same.

This means two of every four summers are filled with top-class international football, leaving only two summers free every four years for the players and the fans to have a break.

With the Confederations Cup to be played every two years, this crowds the calendar even more.

For example: European Championship in 2000, Confederations Cup 2001, World Cup 2002, Confederations Cup 2003, European Championship 2004 (in Portugal), Confederations Cup 2005 (in Germany), World Cup in 2006 (in Germany)!

It's crazy!

The eight teams to play in this year's Confederations Cup are: France and Turkey from Europe, Brazil and Colombia from South America, Cameroon from Africa, the United States from CONCACAF, New Zealand from Oceania and, of course, Japan from Asia, after Philippe Troussier's team won the Asian Cup in Lebanon in 2000.

The teams will be drawn into two groups of four, and FIFA has already decided that the European teams and South American teams will be in different groups.

This means that Brazil and Turkey will be in one group, with France and Colombia in the other.

Japan could get an extremely tough group if Zico's men are in with Brazil, Turkey and the United States. I think Japan would be lucky to even draw one of these games, never mind win one.

On the other hand, France, Colombia and New Zealand would give Japan a chance to finish in the top two and qualify for the semifinals.

But on current rankings, you would have to say that only New Zealand is weaker than Japan, so whichever teams Japan must play will be difficult.

Pires does not want to play. Wenger does not want any of his highly-paid players to play.

Maybe FIFA should listen more carefully to the critics.

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Gamba should be hot, but maybe not.....

6 Feb 2003(Thu)

I know this is an early time to be making a prediction about a season which is still seven weeks away, but here is my choice to win the 2003 J.League championship.

Wait for it.....

I am tipping Gamba Osaka!

OK, so you think I must be crazy picking a team that has never won a stage, never mind the championship.

But I got good vibes from Gamba last season, and feel that, under Akira Nishino, they can continue to improve.

I honestly thought they were good enough to win the title last season. In fact they should have won the first stage, and if they'd done that they would have had a 50-50 chance of taking the overall crown.

I was one of the fortunate few thousand to witness one of the best games the J.League has ever produced.

Gamba led Jubilo 4-2 at Iwata with eight minutes to go, but lost 5-4 in sudden-death extra time to an unfortunate own goal by the unlucky Miyamoto.

If Gamba had held on to win that match in 90 minutes, I am convinced they would have had the momentum and the motivation to go on and clinch the first-stage championship.

At the end of last season they replaced two of their three foreign players, and I really like the signing of veteran Paraguay international Francisco Arce, from Brazil's Palmeiras.

I think he is a super player, far more than just the dead-ball expert he is made out to be.

This will give Gamba added strength on the wings, as the 31-year-old Arce is expected to replace Morioka on the right side of Nishino's 3-5-2 formation. With the stylish Araiba on the left, Gamba's "Little and Large" front two of Yoshihara and Magrao should have plenty of crosses to feed off in the penalty box.

Although Marcelinho Carioca was used as a substitute in the second half of the season, often coming off the bench and on to the right wing with good results, it was no surprise he was released. If a foreign player cannot command a regular first-team place, he is a waste of money.

But I was a little surprised Gamba did not give Fabinho another season. I quite liked him alongside Endo in the middle of the park.

Gamba's second new foreign player, Marcus Aurelio Galeano, is a 30-year-old Brazilian journeyman, latterly of Botafogo.

If he does a steady job, Gamba can be a very strong team.

With Yamaguchi, Miyamoto and Kiba at the back, and the under-rated Futugawa playing behind the top two, Gamba can challenge for the title.

They still have to find a place for the Asian Games hero Nakayama.

The trouble is: Do Gamba themselves believe they can win the championship?

There seemed to be a mental block when they led Jubilo 4-2 last season. They did not appear to believe they could actually win the match, and Jubilo pounced on this weakness in typically ruthless style.

Jubilo and Antlers, of course, can never be written off.

Urawa Reds could be dynamite with Emerson and Edmundo together, and so could Yokohama F Marinos under Takeshi Okada and with Kubo in the forward line and Cafu, eventually, on the right.

Nagoya Grampus have made a great signing in Fujimoto from relegated Sanfrecce, and might be ready to show some consistency in Verdenik's second year as coach.

But watch out for Gamba!

And remember where you read it first....

ends

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FC Tokyo preparing for Amaral's farewell season

2 Feb 2003(Sun)

All good things must come to an end.

And it looks as though Amaral's long and distinguished career withFC Tokyo will be over at the end of the coming season.

The 36-year-old Brazilian center forward has played for the clubsince 1992, when it was known as Tokyo Gas.

When FC Tokyo joined the J.League in 1999, Amaral's goals helpedthe club win promotion to the first division at the first time of asking,and they have been there ever since.

Last season, Amaral scored 15 times in 29 league games, statisticswhich the club just could not ignore, despite his age.

The managing director, Murabayashi-san, said this week:"Amaral is a very special person and special player for FCTokyo.

"I don't think we'll ever find someone else like him.

"FC Tokyo has only a five-year history, but Amaral goes backmore than 10 years with this team.

"But he will be 37 years old this year, and everybody knowshis level now is not at the top."

There is no doubting Amaral's popularity at Tokyo Stadium inChofu.

Fans refer to him as "the king of Tokyo," while a giantbanner proclaims "King Amaral Stadium."

This is why FC Tokyo have given him a new contract for 2003, andwhy officials such as Murabayashi-san will try and make it a special yearfor the player.

"We are planning to market more Amaral merchandise and alsouse his No. 11 in special promotions," said Murabayashi.

"For example, there is a No. 11 Gate at Tokyo Stadium which wewill refer to as 'Amaral Gate,' and every No. 11 seat in the stadium willbe called an 'Amaral seat.'"

Despite having one of the smallest budgets in J1, especially whencompared to Yokohama F Marinos (Nissan), Urawa Reds (Mitsubishi) andNagoya Grampus Eight (Toyota), FC Tokyo is one of the best-run clubs froma business point of view.

They are keeping the same three foreign players for next season,Amaral, the attacking midfielder Kelly and central defender Jean Witte,as they try to keep improving under manager Hiromi Hara.

The signing of Jo Kanazawa from Jubilo Iwata should also give theteam more balance, as they definitely lacked a left-sided midfielder lastseason.

On the right remains the exciting Olympic team prospect Ishikawa,who looks to be staying with FC Tokyo permanently now that Yukihiko Satohas moved in the opposite direction, to Marinos.

Just what Yukihiko thinks about the signing of Cafu, though, isanother matter, as the Brazilian World Cup veteran will occupy the rightflank.

At the same time, Verdy are now hoping that Marinos will allow themto sign Hayuma Tanaka on a full transfer rather than on loan.

ends

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