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Batistuta, Suker and Urawa sensation 'Yama-gol'

17 Apr 2006(Mon)

Tokyo, April 14, 2006 -- If Japan's leading forwards are looking for a master finisher to copy his style, the answer may be closer to home than they think.

Yes, the master finisher is playing in Japan.

And, yes again, he is Japanese!

You may be surprised by this observation, especially when the player I am referring to has played for Japan's national team on a number of occasions under Zico.

Still puzzled?

Well, it's none other than Nobuhisa Yamada, the versatile Urawa Reds veteran who displayed his sublime finishing skills yet again in the Nabisco Cup against Avispa Fukuoka at Komaba on Wednesday night.

After robbing a dithering Hirajima, Avispa's right-sided midfielder, Yamada cruised down the inside-left channel before clipping the ball delightfully over goalkeeper Kamiyama.

Talk about cool!

Yamada was so cool he should be renamed the "Ice Man" -- and he left the keeper frozen solid.

It wasn't the first time in recent months I've noticed a stunning finish from Yamada, as he's found the net before with some delicate touches, caressing the ball into the corner rather than blasting it.

Yamada's goals bring to mind a conversation I had with UEFA technical expert Andy Roxburgh, the former head coach of Scotland, during the 1998 World Cup in France. (It was at the same seminar in Paris when a certain Philippe Troussier was giving an amusing speech about African football, shortly before he became Japan's new head coach.)

Japan had already been eliminated, losing 1-0 to Argentina and Croatia and 2-1 to Jamaica, and Roxburgh said there had been little difference between the two teams -- apart from the fact that Argentina had Batistuta and Croatia had Suker (actually, that's a pretty big difference).

"Watch the leading strikers in the world," Roxburgh said. "See how they relax when they have the chance to score a goal.

"Now watch the Japanese forwards. They are in too much of a hurry. A chance comes, they panic and the chance is gone."

Well, it was something like that, but the conversation was eight years ago now.

Had Roxburgh been at Komaba on Wednesday night, and seen Yamada's beautiful goal, I'm sure he would have thought: "Wow, the Japanese strikers have improved a lot since 1998!"

Only that, as we all know, Yamada is hardly a striker, even though he played up front on Wednesday alongside Kurobe.

A right back in 4-4-2, a right wing-back in 3-5-2, a "top-shita" even...Yamada has played in all these positions, but it was the first time I'd seen him so far forward.

On this particular night, Yamada made scoring a goal in a one-on-one with the keeper as easy as Batistuta or Suker used to do...and you can't get better than that.

They used to call Batistuta "Bati-gol", so let's hear it for Reds' latest scoring sensation..."Yama-gol"!


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