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Leao says Japan was stronger 10 years ago

16 Jun 2005(Thu)

TOKYO (June 15): Emerson Leao at Vissel Kobe...Washington at Verdy...the Confederations Cup just around the corner...

All these factors came to mind the other day, when Leao brought his struggling Vissel team to Omiya for a Nabisco Cup group game on Saturday.

Leao, remember, was in charge of Brazil at the 2001 Confederations Cup in Japan and South Korea. At that time, Washington was leading Brazil's attack, and the playmaker was Ramon, who would also go on to play for Verdy.

After Saturday's game at Omiya I was able to ask Leao a few questions about this month's Confederations Cup, where Japan will play Brazil again, in Cologne on June 22.

Four years ago the teams drew 0-0 in group play at Ibaraki, but Leao thinks it will be a different story this time.

"The game will not be at home for Japan. It will be in Germany, and this is a big difference. Japan will lose in Germany," he said.

Leao, in fact, was not very positive about the current Japan team in general.

He knows Japanese football well, of course, having worked with S-Pulse in 1993-94 and with Verdy in 1996, and thinks Japan was stronger 10 years ago!

Brazil has all the technique, and nowadays Japan has only tactics, he said, and no outstanding individual players.

"Japan is a different team today," he said.

"There is no superstar, only the team. The difference today in games is the superstar."

Doesn't Hidetoshi Nakata come into this category, I suggested/pleaded?

"No. Japan has no big star. A superstar is Robinho, Ronaldinho, Zidane."

Mmm....very interesting.

Japan's previous coach, Philippe Troussier, would have loved to hear these words, as this was his philosophy: a team in which all players had their specific role and were equally as important, with no superstar.

Of course Leao's opinion must be respected, and no one would argue that a player such as Ronaldinho can turn a 0-0 draw into a 1-0 victory with an outrageous piece of skill.

But I can't agree that Japan was stronger 10 years ago, can you?

Ten years ago, in fact, in June 1995, I followed Japan around England in the Umbro Cup, watching them play England at Wembley, Brazil at Goodison Park and Sweden at Nottingham Forest.

Those were the days of Kazu and Gon up front, Ihara and Hashiratani at the back....

But no one in midfield of the individual quality of Nakata or Ono.

Well, we will find out soon enough how much progress Japan has made since the 2003 Confederations Cup.


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