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Santos is an attacker, not defender

15 Sep 2003(Mon)

Although it is difficult to tell if Zico and Japan are learning anything from these recent friendlies, one thing has become more clear.

That Alessandro Santos is not a defender and should not be playing at left back in Zico's four-man defense.

Even though it was a bold, adventurous move by Zico to give Santos a chance at left back, I was never convinced he would be the right choice.

The reasons for my doubts were obvious: that he's an attacking player, not a defensive one.

Problems that surfaced in the Confederations Cup in France will not go away, and this could prove costly to Japan in World Cup qualifying matches.

Against New Zealand at the Stade de France, for example, Santos was shown the yellow card for a clumsy challenge early in the game when there was absolutely no danger. Later in the first half, Santos was lucky not to be shown the yellow card again, followed by the red, after a blatant dive in the New Zealand penalty box.

Just think how different the result could have been if Japan had been reduced to 10 men when leading only 1-0.

Against Colombia, Santos committed a schoolboy error by heading the ball across his own goal, and only a fine blocking save by Narazaki prevented the South Americans from scoring earlier than they did.

In Niigata this week, Santos did the same again, showing his inexperience with a careless header to present Senegal with a corner on the right wing. This was after the Africans had scored the only goal of the game from this exact same situation.

His positioning, his tendency to drift forward and leave space behind him, his weak heading...all these show he is not the man for the job, as the first task of a defender is to defend.

If Japan played a 3-5-2 formation, then Santos's attacking flair, pace and trickery would be handy on the left side of midfield. His weak defense would not be as crucial to the team in this area, as there would be two defensive midfield players to cover across the line, and three defenders behind them to cut off attacks down the flanks.

I still think Santos has something to offer Japan, but on the left wing, maybe even off the bench, but it is clear now he is not right for the left back slot.

Zico should be able to get away with it against weak Asian opposition at the start of World Cup qualifying, but against stronger opponents, such as Senegal's Henri Camara the other night at Niigata, it is asking for trouble.

ends

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