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April 2005

Excitement mounts towards 10,000th J1 goal

28 Apr 2005(Thu)

TOKYO (April 27): What is the connection between Naoshi Nakamura and a round-the-world holiday of a lifetime?

Well, there isn't one at the moment.

But there could be in a few days' time if the exciting Nagoya Grampus Eight player scores the 10,000th goal in J.League first division history.

For some reason, while studying the fixtures for the next few rounds of games, Nakamura's name came to mind as a likely scorer of that landmark goal.

Here's why.

After last weekend's games, the grand total of goals in the first division since the league kicked off in 1993 is 9,922. That means there's only 78 more to score.

In the seven rounds of matches this season, 183 goals have been scored at an average of 2.91 goals per game.

If this trend continues--and, of course, anything could happen in any game, like Gamba beating FC Tokyo 5-3--then the 10,000th goal should come in the 10th round of games, on May 4.

This Thursday...this coming Sunday...surely too early, unless Emerson can find his scoring boots.

So the J.League is preparing for a May 4 celebration.

Looking at the fixtures that day, the late kick-off is Grampus at home to Oita Trinita, a match made for Nakamura to score this historic goal.

Of course, I could be way off the mark, but it's all good fun trying to work out the possibilities.

So where does the holiday of a lifetime come into this?

As many fans know, the J.League is running a competition to guess the scorer of the 10,000th goal, and so far over 100 different players have been nominated in over 100,000 votes.

Emerson is the top choice, followed by Masashi Oguro and King Kazu down at Vissel Kobe.

First prize--not for the goal scorer, but for the fan who guesses right--is a travel voucher up to the value of 5 million yen. The lucky winner can go anyway they want, and take with them whoever they want, on a customised travel ticket.

The closing date for entries is April 30 (Saturday), by which time the guessing game might be a bit clearer after Thursday's matches.

Good luck....and don't forget that o-miyage!


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Konno would be the best bet for success with Bologna

25 Apr 2005(Mon)

TOKYO (April 23): What have Hasebe (Urawa Reds) and the FC Tokyo pair of Konno and Ishikawa got in common?

Well, they have all caught the eye of Bologna during a scouting mission to Japan.

According to sources within the J.League, Bologna want to sign one of these three in June, so he will be on board in time for the next Italian season.

They are all "very interesting players" (as Philippe Troussier would have said).

Of the three, who would be the most likely to do well in Italy? Meaning playing in the first team on a regular basis rather than sitting on the bench.

With the Italian game relying so much on defence and tactics, this would make Konno the obvious choice, although he is a very effective player going forward, too.

Personally, I feel Konno should have been in the national squad immediately after his Olympic commitments were over. He has a fantastic "engine" and is full of intelligent movement, with and without the ball.

He tackles well, makes great runs into space and can also score goals. His progress was rapid in the youth team and Olympic team and he needed to keep going forward into Zico's squad, but, alas, it has not happened.

Of the three players mentioned, I think Konno would have the best chance of success in Italy, as he is robust and strong and reliable.

Ishikawa, too, should have been promoted to the national squad, as he is an exciting, dynamic player, and was under-used by Yamamoto-kantoku in the Olympic Games.

He is fast and explosive and just loves to run at defenders, providing natural width on the right flank.

I don't know if the Italian style would stifle his natural game, though, and turn him into an "impact" player off the bench. Ishikawa doesn't want this, and would surely prefer a more open style of football, such as Spain or Holland.


The boy has natural talent, that's for sure, but a move to Italy would seem somewhat premature.

He is still learning his trade in Japan, and, at the moment, appears a bit lightweight for Italy. But clearly the Italians noticed his natural skills and his energy.

This is the common characteristic of these three players: they all work hard for the team and never give up, and have their own special, but very different, individual points.

Has the "Hasebe Factor" got anything to do with Urawa's renewed interest in Toshiya Fujita?

Probably not, but maybe. We'll soon see...


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Red card incident needed more TV debate

21 Apr 2005(Thu)

By Jeremy Walker

TOKYO (April 20): There were several things I couldn't understand about Saturday's game between JEF United and Kashima Antlers.

The first was why did the referee, Toru Kamikawa, send off JEF's Bulgarian defender, Stoyanov, so quickly?

When Araiba, the Antlers left-back, took to the air, I thought it was Kosuke Kitajima in the No. 7 shirt because he was off the podium so powerfully.

Kamikawa instantly went for his top pocket.

What was he looking for? His red card, his yellow card or maybe even his credit card, as confusion reigned?

Surely a yellow card for diving for Araiba. After all, Kamikawa had started the match so well by showing the yellow card to Antlers striker Alex Mineiro, who had tried to win a penalty by diving after a clash with Kushino in the JEF goal.

If not a yellow for Araiba, then perhaps for Stoyanov if there had been contact. Was he the last defender? Did he deny Araiba a clear scoring chance? I thought "no" on both occasions.

But the ref produced a red card, and it shone brightly high in the spring sunshine.

I couldn't believe it, as, for me, it ruined what was becoming an enthralling match.

Also, wasn't it obvious that Araiba was going to take off after pushing the ball past Stoyanov? Everyone could see it.

I really don't like criticising referees, because they have a tough job, impossible almost, these days, but sometimes they don't help themselves with such hasty, unnecessary decisions.

But there we are. Stoyanov was off and staying off, and Antlers went on to win easily 4-2.

This was a major talking point, and I was looking forward to the sports news programmes on Saturday night analysing at great length the Stoyanov incident, and showing it from every angle possible several times.

This is what would have happened in England, and the panelists/commentators would have chatted on endlessly about such a controversial, match-changing decision.

NHK's Saturday Sports ignored it completely, although showed the game's wonderful goals: Ogasawara's imperious double...Yuto's cracker (what a good player this young Sato is)...sheer class from Haas.

Later in the evening, on two more TV channels, the red card incident was shown very quickly and not analysed at all, as far as I could understand.

There was some contact between the two players, but it looked 50-50 as Araiba ran into Stoyanov's shoulder. A red card? Surely no.

As I say, I don't like criticising referees, because it's easy and cheap, but I think Kamikawa got it wrong on this occasion and, showing unnecessary haste, spoiled the spectacle.


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Ono tries to protect the 'new Shunsuke'

18 Apr 2005(Mon)

TOKYO (April 16): If one Shunsuke wasn't enough, it now looks like Japanese football has another!

Meet Shunsuke Maeda, 18, of Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

Some J.League fans will be aware of him already, as he made 11 appearances last season while still at high school, scoring one goal.

But at Ajinomoto Stadium on Wednesday night, the new Shunsuke was receiving as much media attention as the old one, Nakamura.

In a 4-1 demolition of a poor Verdy side, Maeda scored the first goal and gave a bright and lively performance.

His goal, midway through the first half, summed up Verdy's incompetence, as they allowed a player measuring 1.73 metres to score with a free header at a corner.

Before the game, the former Sanfrecce, Verdy and national team centre forward Takuya Takagi had tipped me off about Maeda, so I was looking forward to seeing him in action in his first year as a pro out of the Sanfrecce youth team.

I was expecting to see a Nakamura lookalike, slight of build, with a nice left foot and a languid playing style.

But this Shunsuke looked more like Oku in appearance, somewhat scruffy with his shirt hanging out and his socks halfway down his shins.

As a player, he was nothing like Nakamura, either.

For a start he was much quicker and more explosive in open play, buzzing across the front line more like Okubo. He loves to take people on, and gave the Verdy defenders a torrid night.

Inevitably, the star-hungry Japanese media flocked round Shunsuke Maeda after the game. First the TV crews, then the reporters, as Maeda was pinned against the wall for about 20 minutes.

Sanfrecce's manager, Takeshi Ono, did not know whether to laugh or cry.

Of course his club needs media attention, and needs a Japanese star, but Ono also knows that too much publicity too soon can lead a young player to think he has made it to the big time.

"I have to protect him," Ono said.

"He is a good talented player, but he has to learn much more about football, such as defending and moving without the ball. It's not good to cheer him too much because he is only young and has to learn much more."

Wise words from the manager, but on the night, with three points in the bag, Ono was happy to let the media go overboard on a Sanfrecce player.


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Singapore makes sense for North Korea-Japan

14 Apr 2005(Thu)

TOKYO (April 13): Listening to the radio this morning, it seems that the North Korea-Japan match might not go ahead after all at Pyongyang on June 8.

This makes sense to me, as I feel it would be very dangerous for Japanese fans to travel to the game. The players also.

Especially if Japan win the game, there could be some big problems for security officials, and you wonder how much effort they would make to stop any trouble.

This came to mind watching the TV news the other day, when some 10,000 Chinese demonstrated in Beijing against Japan over a number of issues.

The police just watched as the Chinese lined up to throw rocks or bottles at the Japanese Embassy.

At one point I thought the police might start handing out cuddly toys for a direct hit at an Embassy window, like at the fairground.

Apparently, they didn't try to stop them because they didn't want the demonstrators' anger turned on their own government. Interesting.

The same could happen in Pyongyang, so the possibility of moving the match makes sense.

To where?

Well, Seoul would be too political, and so now, sadly, would Hong Kong, although I think the latter would be a perfect location.

Many Japanese live there, many would travel down for the game, the magnificent Hong Kong Stadium seats 40,000, and the former British colony is football crazy.

I lived there for eight years, and still visit regularly, and often I see Chinese youngsters wearing replica shirts of Hidetoshi Nakata, Junichi Inamoto and others, including Naoki Matsuda.

The anti-Japan feeling would surely be burning in Hong Kong as well, as it is aligned much closer to the Motherland now since the 1997 handover.

If the North Korea-Japan match is to be played in a neutral venue, Singapore would make sense, or perhaps even Kuala Lumpur, home of the Asian Football Confederation.

That would be better than playing it behind closed doors in Pyongyang, because there would still be all the administrative hassle to work through.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see the developments over the next few days, but for the sake of security and logistical purposes, North Korea against Japan in Singapore sounds very attractive and safe to me.

Any Dangan Tours organised yet?


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Little Ardija looking down on mighty Reds

11 Apr 2005(Mon)

TOKYO (April 9): Well, the experts were right again, weren't they?

One Saitama team among the early pace-setters; the other scrapping for points at the wrong end of the table...

Where the pre-season predictions fall down, though, is that it's little Omiya Ardija who have made the bright start to the new season, and mighty Urawa Reds in all sorts of trouble at the other end of the table.

It just goes to show how unpredictable football is around the world, even though, as the season wears on, Omiya and Urawa will surely move down and up, respectively.

Ardija have seven points from three league games, and they look to have spent wisely in the winter.

Just like the cherry trees, Fujimoto is in full blossom now that he's a first-team regular, and is responding to the challenge of leading a new team in J1. His experience and his confidence on the ball has been crucial in enabling Omiya adapt to life in the top flight after six seasons in J2.

Left-sided players seem to be hard to come by in most parts of the world, except Brazil and Wales, and Mikami has proved to be another solid signing, bringing balance on the left flank, behind Fujimoto.

Sakurai, ex-Reds and Verdy, started well with a great goal at Gamba, but has since been sent off and now he's injured.

No matter, new Brazilian recruit Christian is finding his form and fitness after a knee operation in September, and will be a danger to all teams with his aerial power in the box.

Fujimoto, Sakurai, Mikami and Christian...no wonder manager Toshiya Miura is full of praise for the technical staff who made the signings, as they have blended instantly into the team.

And so to Reds...

How Guido Buchwald must be wishing he could change places with Miura, at least in the current climate. No drama. No controversy. Just a few points in the bag, thank you.

Two 1-0 defeats, two red cards for Alpay, one 3-3 draw, one red card for Nene, in three games leaves Urawa in 17th place with just a point.

For today's massive game at home to Gamba, there's no Alpay (suspended), no Nene (suspended) and no Tulio (injured), so Tsuboi will be leading a makeshift defence against one of the brightest attacking teams in the league.

There could be a few goals at Saitama Stadium, and if more of them are into the Reds net than into the Gamba net, the Saitama natives will not be slow to show their disappointment.

The Omiya fans, meanwhile, will enjoy a nice day out at Niigata. For the time being they can relax after an encouraging start, but they know, deep down, that every point won now is another toward safety at the end of the season.

Yes, it's interesting times in Saitama at the moment.


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Tokyo press conference full of 'Blattertudes'

7 Apr 2005(Thu)

TOKYO (April 6): As you all know by now, FIFA president Sepp Blatter was in town on Tuesday, giving a press conference at a plush new hotel in Roppongi Hills.

Officially, he was here to launch the emblem for the new FIFA Club World Championship Toyota Cup Japan 2005, which will involve the six champion clubs from FIFA's six confederations in December.

After a big build-up, the emblem was...well, just like most other FIFA emblems actually.

What the massed ranks of the media really wanted to hear was news on North Korea, and particularly Japan's scheduled World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang on June 8.

But, strangely for a FIFA president, Blatter did not want to get involved, and said a disciplinary committee was investigating the crowd trouble there against Iran recently.

All the signs are, though, is that the North Korea-Japan game will go ahead as scheduled on June 8. Behind the scenes, the Asian Football Confederation is preparing all the documents for the media, and this is at an advanced stage.

There is a slight chance it may be played behind closed doors, but you get the feeling FIFA and AFC do not want to upset North Korea, otherwise they may withdraw again from international football.

Everyone was disappointed that Blatter did not take the story any further. You could say, in fact, he was talking in "Blattertudes"--a play on the word "platitude," meaning a commonplace remark.

What was more interesting on the afternoon was the situation regarding Australia moving from the Oceania Football Confederation to the Asian Football Confederation.

It seems that this will go ahead, as no one is against it.

But Blatter warned that it must not become too easy for national associations to move from one confederation to another, like Kazakhstan did from Asia to Europe three years ago. Otherwise the confederations would be split into strong ones and weak ones, and this would not be good for the world game.

There was much discussion among the media after the official press conference about this, and the general opinion was that it was not satisfactory.

It would be better for FIFA to reorganise Asia and Oceania altogether, by splitting Asia into West and East, and the East incorporating all 12 Oceania national associations.

Oceania, of course, has been messed around by FIFA, who awarded them one automatic qualifying place for the 2006 World Cup, but then took it away under pressure from South America, and turned it into half a place, meaning a two-leg playoff against the fifth-placed South American team.

But the FIFA president told us nothing new really, which was a big disappointment for the big crowd!

It will be an even bigger one if either Jubilo or Marinos do not qualify for the FIFA Club World Championship in December.


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'Forgotten man' Inamoto still trying to prove himself

4 Apr 2005(Mon)

TOKYO (April 2): How times change...

Not all that long ago, in 2002 at Saitama Stadium 2002, to be precise, Junichi Inamoto was the toast of the nation after his World Cup goal against Belgium.

This week, against Bahrain, he was on the bench, and played for only a few seconds right at the end.

You have to wonder what the future holds for the likable midfielder.

Should he stick at it in the English Premier League, or should he move permanently down a division, or even to a lower level such as Holland or Belgium?

Should he give up on Europe altogether and come home, just as Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi did at the end of last year?

The fact is, "Ina" is now no longer an automatic first-team choice for Japan, and if he remains in the wilderness he may lose his squad place altogether.

Ono and Fukunishi now look to be Zico's first-choice pairing in defensive midfield, and even when Ono was suspended for the Bahrain game, the coach moved Hidetoshi Nakata into that role.

Ina, who was looking very relaxed and full of spirit in training, eventually got on for Nakamura, who had displayed a remarkably high level of irresponsibility by casually giving the ball away in injury time as Bahrain pressed for an equaliser.

This is Ina's fourth season in England--one with Arsenal, two with Fulham and one with West Bromwich Albion, where he is back again now his loan spell with Cardiff City has finished--and he is still trying to prove himself.

Chatting to him the night before the Bahrain game, he said he must return to West Brom and try and convince manager Bryan Robson that he is worth a place in the team.

For a while, now, I've thought the English Premiership midfield was a level too high for Inamoto. His physical fitness is fine, of course, and so is his attitude, spirit and technique.

His problem, I feel, is that it's too quick, mentally, because you have to decide what you are going to do with the ball even before you receive it.

For this reason I still think Ina would be a better right-back in the English game, where he would have more time to use the ball. And it would not stop him making his trademark runs forward and having a shot at goal.

The bigger picture, though, is Ina's club career.

He must make sure he is playing regularly, and in the public eye (meaning Zico's), or the hero of 2002 may be watching Germany 2006 on TV, whether or not Japan qualify.


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