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Japan rise to the challenge in Kirin Cup

15 Jul 2004(Thu)

Japan will be heading for China on Thursday with their confidence sky-high after winning the Kirin Cup at International Stadium Yokohama on Tuesday evening.

But it's not so much the winning of the three-nation tournament that impressed me, but more the way they beat Serbia and Montenegro 1-0.

Watching Japan's opponents, it was hard not to refer to them as Yugoslavia, especially with Dragan Stojkovic around as federation president.

The Yugoslavs were referred to as the Brazil of Europe due to the high level of their technical skills.

They were also very tall, very strong and, at times, very rough in their play.

This combination made them, and still makes them, formidable opposition, and teams need courage to come out on top.

Japan showed this Tuesday night.

They stood up to the physical test well, and did not allow Serbia and Montenegro too close to their own goal. As a result, much of Kawaguchi's work was to save long-distance shots.

I have to admit, though, I don't like the antics of Takayuki Suzuki.

I've always thought Suzuki was a diver--as well as a useful target man--and he annoyed the defenders by making the most of the slightest of contact when he had his back to goal.

Sometimes it was a free kick, sometimes it wasn't, but I still feel he is asking for trouble with this kind of behaviour.

A strict referee can show him the yellow card--this could be crucial in China during the Asian Cup--or a defender could hurt Suzuki seriously if he loses his temper due to the forward's style of play.

Maybe this was Suzuki's tactic against Serbia, as Japan's opponents are well known for losing their cool. This is why Stojkovic received so many yellow and red cards during his J.League days. Great skill, but a flawed temperament.

Toward the end of the game, Serbia's libero, Petkovic, fouled Yanagisawa from behind up Japan's left wing. Full credit to Yanagisawa for playing on, before Petkovic was shown the yellow card.

Congratulations, then, to Japan for passing such a difficult test.

Let's hope they maintain this concentration and determination against Asian rivals, and do not show their opponents in China a lack of respect.


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