July 28, 2007: The FC Tokyo-FC Seoul "pre-season match" at Kokuritsu on Thursday evening was well worth the visit.
Not for the football, which was grim and goalless, but for the chance to get a few words with Senol Gunes.
A former goalkeeper and captain of Turkey, Gunes is the man who steered the Turks to their third-place finish at the 2002 World Cup, beating Japan and Korea in the process.
UEFA's Coach of the Year 2002 has been in charge of FC Seoul for six months, and had some interesting things to say on football in this part of the world.
Basically, he said, the Japanese had better technical skills and the Koreans were stronger physically, but both sets of players needed more than this to be a success at the highest level. In short, they needed to think more and think quicker.
"For the World Cup, the mentality must improve because the players cannot arrange the game, cannot manage the game easily," he said, through an interpreter.
"Technique and physique are not enough in football, so they have to get some good mentality so they can arrange the game, can manage the game in all conditions.
"The two countries' players should decide more quickly. That is the problem. When the ball comes to them, before they kick the ball they have to decide everything; they have to decide the next step."
One Japanese player who did this, of course, was Hidetoshi Nakata. You could always see him planning his next move before the ball had reached him. Add to this his skill level and robust frame -- the two qualities talked of by Gunes -- and it is clear why Nakata stood out among his Asian peers.
How Osim needed a player of Nakata's stature to lift his tired team against the Saudis, who were well worth their 3-2 win on Wednesday night. Japan came back twice but could not do it a third time, as the explosive Malek proved too hot to handle in the air and on the ground for Abe, Nakazawa and Kawaguchi.
Credit to the Saudis. After all, they have qualified for the last four World Cups. The result was not a surprise. A disappointment, but not a surprise.