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Zico gives Koji the chance to become a regular

8 Sep 2005(Thu)

September 7 -- One of the biggest bonuses of Zico's reign has been his identification and development of Akira Kaji.

One of the biggests minuses has been his under-use of Koji Nakata.

But maybe this is going to change from now on, as Zico named Nakata in his starting line-up for the friendly with Honduras on Wednesday night.

Needing two defensive midfielders in either of his formations -- 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 -- Zico has frequently overlooked Nakata, despite this being his natural position.

Under Troussier, of course, Koji was a lock, but on the left side of a three-man defence, not in midfield.

So it's good to see Zico putting Nakata in the midfield engine room, alongside another European-based player and 2002 World Cup hero, Junichi Inamoto.

This pairing should give the team balance and poise, with Inamoto allowed to push forward as Nakata holds the fort in front of the defence.

Nakata reads the game so well, and maintains the tempo and the rhythm of the team.

He is very experienced for his age, and his time at Marseille can only make him a stronger character.

Many times I interviewed managers ahead of or after games with Kashima Antlers, and on every occasion the name that cropped up was that of Koji Nakata.

They would praise the qualities listed above, and point out that it was Nakata who conducted the Kashima orchestra.

With the national team, though, there is strong competition for places in this department, and maybe Nakata might not have been selected had Ono been available.

Personally, my first choice midfielders in the engine room would be Ono and Koji, with Inamoto and Fukunishi in reserve, and these four appear to have the edge in terms of World Cup selection.

But that's a long time away, and players cannot afford to be thinking about Germany right now. To use a football cliche, they have to take one match at a time, and show their quality and, above all, their consistency at every opportunity.

Koji has his chance. I'm sure he's going to take it, and Japan's national team will be better off for it.


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