August 29, 2009: The inclusion of at least one player in Takeshi Okada’s squad for the Netherlands trip is a step forward for the national team.
Even though he is uncapped, this particular player has a lot of experience at club level and will be bursting with pride at pulling on the blue shirt should he get the chance.
Yes, it’s really nice to see Daiki Iwamasa in Okada’s squad. Or, to be more precise, back in the squad, as Okada has called him up before, in 2008, but not played him.
At 27, Iwamasa has been the rock on which Kashima Antlers manager Oswaldo Oliveira has built his defence, and the longer Antlers have stayed at the top of the table this season, the harder it must have been for Okada to leave him out.
So now he gets his chance, and hopefully will be able to start one of the two matches on the Euro trip; most likely the second one against Ghana on September 9, as the coach will want his first-choice team out there against the Dutch, meaning Nakazawa and Tulio in the heart of the defence.
I regard it as a step forward because Japan needs as much height and physical strength as possible in South Africa next year. Of course it is nice to fill the team with creative, ball-playing technicians, but there is the fear they could get blown away by teams from Europe, South America and Africa at the World Cup.
Iwamasa also has a tough mental approach, the attitude of a winner, and this quality cannot be under-estimated either. It will be useful at both ends of the pitch, and his aerial power and aggression might actually surprise the opposition defenders when a corner comes over.
If the purists sniff that Iwamasa does not possess the footballing skills on the ground for this high level, then I would counter that his job as a defender, first and foremost, is to defend; to mark the centre forward and make sure he wins the headers at set-pieces and in open play. He is the reincarnation of Akita, an Okada favourite in 1998.
At Kashima, Iwamasa has the speed and the brains of Inoha alongside him – how close Inoha must have been to a call-up, too – and for Japan he’d be playing alongside Nakazawa, Okada’s right-hand man who has established himself as the most important player in the team.
Like the selection of Morimoto, it’s another good call by the coach, setting the scene for some interesting viewing over the next few days.