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Is there time for Maki to make it?

6 Apr 2006(Thu)

Tokyo, April 4, 2006: The closer the World Cup comes, the more I think the chances of Seiichiro Maki going to Germany improve.

And I don't mean as a fan on a "dangan" tour.

I mean as a member of the "daihyo", one of the 23 chosen by Zico before the rather early FIFA deadline of May 15.

Let's look at the facts.

First, Maki is physically fit, 100 per cent fit, meaning he is not carrying a slight injury from week to week.

Second, Maki is match fit, meaning he is sharp and alert on the pitch.

Third, he is playing 90 minutes every week.

Fourth, he is scoring goals...three in six J.League games this season.

Under normal circumstances, the above list of attributes does not add up to anything special.

But these are not normal circumstances for Japan's forwards, and how many of Maki's rivals can place a "tick" in all of the above boxes.

Yanagisawa is injured; Kubo is rusty and looks like he could break down at any time; Takahara is on the bench at Hamburg; Takayuki has disappeared into the mists of Belgrade; Yoshito is off Zico's radar in Mallorca; Tamada is struggling to rediscover the form of yesteryear, and Oguro is playing Sunday morning pub football in France.

Have I forgotten anyone?

Oh yes, Hisato Sato. That was a fine goal against Ecuador from an equally impressive cross from Alex, who, after a couple of quiet years, is finally beginning to sparkle again.

Sato is the only player who, like Maki, his strike partner for Japan's "C" team, can tick all the relevant boxes.

I saw Maki play for JEF on Sunday at Todoroki against Frontale.

It was a fast and physical match, with tackles flying in all afternoon, and extremely well refereed by Tsutomu Anazawa. The ref knew the difference between a blatant dive, namely from Juninho, and a genuine trip, and between a fair shoulder charge (Ito on Maki) and a push, and he let the game flow as much as possible.

Frontale don't play with a "back three" as much as a "basketball three", as Minowa, Terada and Ito are all well above 1.80 metres -- or the same as Hanyu standing on Yuto's shoulders.

But Maki battered away all afternoon, and ran his socks off for the team to help earn a 2-2 draw.

After the game I spoke to JEF manager Osim, who said every team needed a player like Maki, including Nippon Daihyo.

Osim said Maki would be most effective coming off the bench for the national team, say at half-time or with 30 minutes to go, and running relentlessly at a tiring defence.

"Three years, no problems. It's a miracle!" said Osim, referring to Maki's fitness level.

"Very courageous...tackling...not big technique but a very, very big heart."

This is how Osim summed up Maki.

For the first time, and for the reasons listed above, I am starting to think that Maki has a chance.

But what does Zico think?


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