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Okada offers new year hope to young Blues

24 Dec 2009(Thu)

December 22, 2009: It's good to see that Takeshi Okada is giving a new year break to the veterans and calling up some fresh faces for the interesting challenge in Yemen on January 6.

This will be a good learning process for the young Blues, as it is a serious match and part of the 2011 Asian Cup qualifying campaign.

And there was absolutely no need to put pressure on the more seasoned players, especially with the Emperor's Cup still plodding along through to January 1 and the East Asian Championship coming up in early February.

Several selections catch the eye, notably the ones from the under-20 team that won the silver medal in the recent East Asian Games in Hong Kong.

At the back, Taisuke Muramatsu looked an accomplished central defender, and showed good instincts at the other end by scoring Japan's goal in the final against Hong Kong. Any striker, any goal poacher, would have been proud of that one.

In the middle of the park, both Takuya Aoki and Kazuya Yamamura were prominent in the engine room, keeping the shape of the team as other players moved forward. Yamamura, who is still at university, was listed as a defender on the official JFA media release for the East Asian Games, but did a fine job as a defensive midfielder.

Up front, Kensuke Nagai and Yuya Osako got the call for Yemen. Nagai, as stated in a previous column, scored a lovely goal to beat South Korea 2-1 in the 121st minute of their semi-final, clipping the ball into the far corner when under pressure from a defender and the advancing keeper.

Osako did not do himself justice, however, and can play much better than the form he showed in Hong Kong.  In the semi-final against Korea he played as the lone striker, and looked uncomfortable as the target man, his control and distribution letting him down, but he improved a lot in the final against Hong Kong when he was playing slightly deeper and was able to collect the ball facing the goal rather than with his back to goal.

Antlers manager Oswaldo Oliveira thinks Osako can challenge for a place in Okada's squad for South Africa next June, and regarded last season as a learning process for the young forward. “Osako will be ready next season,” Oswaldo told me recently – and you have to believe him!

With the big man, Sota Hirayama, and the full-of-confidence Kazuma Watanabe also among the forwards, Osako will probably have to settle for a place on the bench in Yemen, but Okada is certainly giving him the chance to prove Oswaldo right.


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