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The Year of the Yoshito?

31 Dec 2003(Wed)

They say that 2004 is the Year of the Monkey.

But in Japan could it be the Year of the Yoshito?

The dynamic young Cerezo Osaka striker was never out of the news in 2003.

Sometimes the news was good, such as gaining the most votes in the history of the J.League all-star game, scoring 16 goals in J1 and making his national team debut at the age of 20 against South Korea in May.

Other times it was bad: 14 yellow cards and two red cards in the league, plus his sending-off against Korea in the East Asian Football Championship for his second yellow card, diving in the penalty box. Zico defended Okubo after the game, but he had no right to. The referee was correct in his view.

Since then Okubo has gone on to shoot Cerezo into the Tennohai final on New Year's Day against Jubilo Iwata.

His two goals against Antlers in the semifinal were magnificent: first the diving header to an excellent right-wing cross from Sakemoto, then the powerful shot into the top corner from 30 meters. The club is hoping that Okubo has learned his lesson after the red card against Korea, and that he starts to behave with more responsibility.

He's still only 21, though, and is still growing up as a professional footballer and as a person. He has a fiery character on the pitch, and this is what makes him stand out from the crowd.

Hopefully he can retain this fire and energy but channel it in the right direction, and not commit needless fouls or argue futilely with the referee.

Japan will need a fit and focused Okubo in 2004, as he faces Olympic friendlies and Asian qualifying games for Athens, then possibly the Games themselves in Greece in August; national team friendlies and the first round of World Cup qualifying for Germany 2006, plus the Asian Cup in China in July; as well as a busy season with his club.

The last thing Okubo needs is a mountain of yellow and red cards.

2003 was a breakout year for Okubo, but 2004 can be even better.

Let's see how he starts the new year against Jubilo Iwata.

A fantastic goal?

A red card?

Maybe both.


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