Stuttgart, June 26, 2006 – It is very interesting reading the comments of Zico from his final press conference as Japan´s head coach in distant Tokyo.
He is pointing out that Japan suffered at the World Cup because they did not have enough tall players to match the Australians in particular, and also the Croatians.
While this is true, it must be noted that Zico was aware of this since last December, when the draw was made in Leipzig. He knew then that Japan would be in a tough, physical group, and when the USA ran Japan ragged in a San Francisco friendly early in the year, the alarm bells should have been ringing even louder.
But Zico did nothing to bolster his defence, instead staying loyal to the players who had been around for some time.
I have said before in this column that, on his day, Naoki Matsuda is the best Japanese player in the J.League, although he let down Zico and himself by walking out on the squad before a World Cup qualifier in 2005. Under those circumstances, I can understand Zico not picking him again.
This could not be said of Urawa Reds defender Tulio. He has the height and the muscle to be of use to Japan in the future, although he is still a little rough around the egdes.
With all those friendlies in 2006, I thought it was well worth Zico taking a look at Tulio, but he never got the call.
Reds manager Guido Buchwald has said consistently this season that Tulio has been his best defender, and the best header of a ball in Japan, even though Tsuboi is in the national squad ahead of him.
At a meeting of the Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan at the end of May, Buchwald was the guest speaker, and told the audience that the only time Zico had talked business with him was two years ago.
He was asked why Zico had not given Tulio a chance, and replied: ´´I don´t know, but I have heard it is because Zico thinks Tulio speaks too much on the pitch.´´
That´s strange, isn´t it, as the lack of communication among Japanese players is always being highlighted as a fault by Zico!
So I disagree that Japan does not possess players of sufficient height. This reminds me of a response by Philippe Troussier to a question from a Japanese reporter about the size of the Japanese defenders.
´´Does Mexico have players as tall as Matsuda in defence?´´ he said. ´´Mexico are always in the World Cup. This is not a problem for Japan.´´
Of course it is too late now to talk about what Zico should have done, but his reluctance to introduce new players and freshen up the squad played a part in Japan´s downfall.