Eleven matches before the World Cup? Surely too many.
December 25, 2009: The announcement that Japan were planning to play 11 matches in the build-up to the 2010 World Cup took me by surprise the other day.
Eleven? Is it really necessary to play so many? That seems an awful lot to me - two per month -- and you have to hope the quality of opposition for the friendly games is worth the while; unlike the recent farce against Togo.
The Asian Cup qualifiers against Yemen away on January 6 and Bahrain at home on March 3 are both competitive matches, and Takeshi Okada can look at a wide range of players in these two games.
Then there are the three games in the East Asian Championship in early February. Again these will be good tests for Japan, especially against China and South Korea, and games in which Okada can make only three substitutions. These matches should not be under-estimated in terms of the competitive nature in which they will be played. They will be hard and physical games, and Japan will do well to win all three on home soil in the East Asian Championship.
So there are five decent matches already. The only problem, of course, is that they are all against Asian opposition, and Japan will be facing one African team and two European sides at the World Cup. However, it was not long ago that Japan played the Dutch and Ghana on their visit to the Netherlands, and South Africa away, so they cannot say they are lacking experience against northern European or African teams away from home.
While accepting Japan need to play a couple of non-Asian teams, preferably away from home, do they really need to play six, as planned, on top of the five already mentioned? Personally, I don't think so, and two, or a maximum of three, would suffice.
And wouldn't it make more sense to leave these games until the end of the European season, when Okada can mix his J.League players with his Europe-based players.
I think the players would benefit more from a solid, routine-like domestic programme from March to May, rather than friendlies here, there and everywhere, before the final countdown to Cameroon on June 14 begins.
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