March 11th, 14:46.23. The biggest earthquake ever in Japanese history struck North Eastern Japan. When it happened I was working in the office on the 10th floor, and I could easily feel big quake. It shook about two minutes even I was at more than 500 kilometers away from earthquake epicenter. I immediately turned on TV and saw the catastrophic footage. People rushed to get away from the Tsunami but it swept up people, cars and houses like fragile toys...
This 9.0 magnitude earthquake caused a tsunami wave of up to 50 meters. The disaster resulted in more than 13,000 dead and 14,000 still people missing. There was also the Fukushima radiation leaks.
All Japanese suffered a tremendous shock and there are no exception for the Japanese footballers based abroad. However, in comparison with the indecisive Japanese government, all players and teams reacted quickly sending prayers and donations for the victims. This goes especially for those Japanese footballers based in Europe. They sent messages of encouragement and promised to do everything they could for the people back home.
Meanwhile back in Japan, two international matches against Montenegro and New Zealand were called off and a charity match between the Japan national team and a J-League all-stars 'Team as One' was held as a replacement.
It was decided to stage the match at Osaka where there isn't an electricity problem. When the game kicked off the stadium was bathed in many flash lights like a World Cup Final. On 15 minutes Japan take the lead with Endo's superb free-kick. He then gathered his team mates together and raises his black armband to the air to express sympathy to the victims. Four minutes later Okazaki grabs Japan's second with perfect lob over the goalkeeper. In the second half, both teams make wholesale changes and J league All-stars start to create chances. With only eight minutes to go before full time, Japan's living legend 'King Kazu' pulled one back with a fine finish. The 44 year old striker reacted quickly to beat the keeper and showed celebrated with famous goal celebration, the 'Kazu Dance'. It showed that he is still the 'Special One' of Japanese football and was most memorable highlight of the match. In the end the match ends up 2-1 to Japanese national side and the 169,700,000 yen raised will go to Japan's Red Cross society as a donation.
It has been over a month and still after-quakes are happening here but this match shows what football is all about and capable of... We believe that we will be able to get over this disaster. There's no night which isn't followed by dawn. Because we live in the country of Rising Sun.
The Asian Cup, is played every four years, contested between 16 nations. The lucky winner qualifies to Confederations cup. This year's Cup 2011 is held in Qatar where World Cup 2022 will be held. Japan have won the competition three times. (Along with Iran and Saudi Arabia Japan have won it the most times). We have an idiom called ‘whistle of the middle east’. It especially affects the match between Middle Eastern nations and East Asian nations. This year was no different.
Japan fought for a place in the knock-out round in group B with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. Japan started the campaign poorly with an unexpected 1-1 draw against Jordan. Meanwhile Syria upset a so-called much better side Saudi Arabia with a surprising 2-1 win.
Following the unpredictable draw with Jordan, Syria were Japan's next opponent. But they still struggled to find their form. Japan took a first half lead then suddenly the ‘whistle of the middle east’ struck.
On 70th minutes, Japan’s goal keeper Kawashima cheaply gives ball to Syrian player. But the Syrian passed it to a team-mate who was clearly offside. The flag was raised before Kawashima and the Syrian contest for the ball and Referee blows whistle. Everybody thought it was for offside but the Iranian referee has other ideas and gives Syria a penalty before to much protesting he sends Kawashima off! It is one of the harshest refereeing decision I’ve ever seen. (Another one is obviouslyTom Henning Øvrebø’s at Stamford bridge in 2009)
Syria convert ‘the present’ to equalize. But ten minutes after the equalizer, the referee balanced the books and gave a penalty for opposite side. Okazaki went down in the box and Honda converted 'the gift' to snatch narrow win.
However, this bitter, hard-earned victory helped Japan to find their form. They easily beat Saudi Arabia 5-0 on the score sheet with Shinji Okazaki’s hat-trick to top of the group and progress to knock-out round.
In the quarter final, Japan play against host nation Qatar. They finished in second place in Group A behind Uzbekistan to achieve their minimal goal. I thought this match would be a cracker and Japan might lose. Twelve minutes passed from the kick off, Uruguayan(!) striker Sebastian gets behind of Japanese defense and scores for Qatar. But soon Japan reply. Shinji Kagawa equalizes from another little flick from Shinji. One-all at half time.
In the second half, Japan are reduced ten-men after a poor challenge from Yoshida, who picked-up his second yellow. And Brazilian(!) Fabio scores from the set piece for Qatar to go in front again. But ten-man Japan show great ability to fight back. Japan’s number 10, Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa, gets his second to be back on level terms. Two minutes before full time, again Kagawa makes the run and chance, defender Inoha gets a winning goal to dent the host nation’s hopes.
The Semi-finals saw Japan take on the Republic of Korea. South Korea had come through their quarter-final beating Iran after extra time. This match is always tough because of the fact that Japan haven’t beaten their bitter rivals since 2005.
South Korean and Celtic midfielder Ki Sung-Yeung showed a 'monkey face' to the camera as a goal cerebration which is a traditional insult from Koreans to Japanese. First of all he commented on twitter ‘when I scored, I saw Japan’s old flag' (The 'Rising Sun' flag which was used as the war flag of the Imperial Japanese army and the ensign of the imperial Japanese navy until the end of World War two) Also he added that ‘Sometimes being Korean is more important than being a football player’. But the next day, he changed his story to escape from FIFA’s punishment and blamed Scottish. ‘That performance was not directed at Japanese people. When I play at Celtic, our opponent’s fans call me a monkey and the celebration was towards people who make such racist remarks.’
Probably better not to mention to him that no one saw this match in Scotland….
I personally think it is really pointless to show monkey face while playing against Japan and not sure why he didn’t think it would possibly be the problem, even he didn't mean to be rude to the Japanese.
Well, the match is quite exciting and has a dramatic end. South Korea took the lead from the spot. Japan equalised soon afterwards after brilliant play from Keisuke Honda and Yuto Nagatomo on the left hand side. The match went into extra time after a goalless second half. On 97th minutes, Japan win a penalty and Honda tries to smash it but the South Korean keeper parried it aside! However, Japan’s midfielder Hosogai rushes to the ball to recover! But again! Somehow South Korea equalize 30 seconds into full time!
At the penalty shootout, Japan’s keeper Kawashima shows the difference. He makes two excellent saves to book their place in the final!
January 29th 2011. A massive day for Japan who take on Australia in the Final in Qatar. Australia reached to the final with impressive record. They scored 13 goals and conceded only a goal in their five matches; in the semi-final they hammered Uzbekistan 6-0 to secure their place in the final. As you know, Australia has many talents and a strong side in Asia; Everton’s Tim Cahill, Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer and the former Liverpool player Harry Kewell amongst others.
The decider gets underway, soon Japan are under pressure as Australia used their height advantage. They kick the ball towards Cahill who had scored two in the same fixture in 2006 World Cup. On nineteen minutes Australia get a decent chance from corner kick. The ball finds Cahill, he heads it and Kewell slightly touches in front of Kawashima only for Kawashima to scrape out. Australia don’t try anything ingenious but keep feeding long balls. On thirty minutes Japan have a good chance, Okazaki cuts inside the box and takes a shot which hits defender’s arm! It should have been given a penalty for hand ball but referee says 'play on'.
Just two minutes passed in the second half and Australia nearly grab an opening goal. A cross from right hand side goes for goal, and hits crossbar and left post! But somehow Japan manage to clear it on the goal line. On 66th minutes, Japan’s Nagatomo passes a defender to provide a cross. It finds Okazaki! His header beats Schwarzer but goes inches wide! Five minutes later Kewell goes through one-on-one but Kawashima saves the day. The final went into extra time to decide who are Asian’s number one.
On 13th minutes into the first half of extra time, both teams get close to grab the victory. A brilliant save from Kawashima denies substitute striker Kruse’s header! On the counter attack Honda’s left-footed shot goes narrowly off target for Japan.
But finally, a piece of magic! About ten minutes before the end of extra time, Nagatomo again dribbles in and provides a perfect cross to Japan’s substitute striker Tadanari Lee. He could have controlled the ball but instead superbly volleys it! Schwarzer cannot move and just watched it hit the back of the net! What a breathtaking goal!!! It reminds me of Zidane’s volley in Champions League final in 2002. Japan manage to defend their lead until the final whistle blown.
On hearing the final whistle the players start to cerebrate. Japan become the champions of Asia for the fourth time, a record. This tournament had been a really tough one for Japan but they finally clinched the title! The good news is that Japan are certainly improving surely under their Italian manager, Zaccheroni.
A belated Happy New Year to all football lovers! So how did you cerebrate your New Year's Eve and New Year holidays? In Japan we have traditions such as eating Toshikoshi Soba ('year-crossing' buckwheat noodles) on New Year’s Eve and Ozoni (rice cake soup) on New Year’s Day. We then visit a shrine to pray for state of perfect health. Meanwhile there are plenty of sporting events which attract tons of Japanese at this time of year such as the Hakone Relay Marathon, National High School Rugby Tournament and so on. There is, of course lots of football; the Emperor's Cup final and also the All Japan High School Soccer Tournament.
This year’s Emperor's Cup ended up with Kashima Antlers beating Shimizu S-Pulse 2-1, resulting in Kashima Antlers earning their place in next season's Asian Champions League. The match wasn’t that entertaining in contrast to excitement of supporters and even the semi-final between Kashima Antlers and FC Tokyo, which Kashima had won after extra time. On the other hand, this year’s final of All Japan High School Soccer Tournament is one of the best game in its history I would say.
The final was played between Kumiyama High School and Takigawa Second High School. Kumiyama High School, from Kyoto, modestly refer to themselves as ‘Barça of Kyoto’. It is very rare to see a team from a 'prefectural' school in this competition as private schools and J-league youth teams recruit young talented players. They beat Chukyodai Chukyo High School, where Arsenal’s new signing Ryo Miyaichi plays, 4-2 in the first round. They then went on to win both their quarter-final and semi-final on penalties to progress to the final.
Takigawa Second High School, usually compete well in this tournament but never reached the final before. This year they boast two excellent strikers whom their manager refers to as ‘double bulldozers’, having have already scored a very impressive 11 goals in 5 matches between them. Takigawa started this campaign well with a comprehensive 6-1 win in the first round and continued this excellent form but also needed a penalty shoot-out in the semis to secure their place in the final.
Kumiyama started the final well and dominate possession. Within five minutes they created two fantastic chances but despite their nickname, the ‘Barça' of Kyoto can’t boast players like David Villa and Messi to convert them. Despite being forced to defend in the early stages, Takigawa fight back slowly. On 24th minutes, one of Takigawa’s bulldozers, Hamaguchi scores from a counter attack. The ball comes in from the left-hand-side to the right winger who heads it across to Hamaguchi and the skipper does well to apply the finish. One-nil to Takigawa! After a half hour gone, Kumiyama get the opportunity to equalize but their headed chance is cleared off the line. Ten minutes later Kumiyama are two-down. Takigawa’s right midfielder provides a magnificent through ball and the right winger sets up a goal for the other bulldozer Higuchi who gratefully grabbed his seventh goal in this tournament. He even had one more chance just before half time but the top scorer’s shot is denied by woodwork.
Nine minutes into the second half, it's surely all over as Takigawa score a third goal from a free-for-all in front of goal. But only three minutes after that, Kumiyama replied with a goal of their own. A shot from narrow angle causes a goalkeeping error and the Kumiyama forward punishes him to pull a goal back. Three-one. Their celebrations were soon dampened as Takigawa’s captain Hamaguchi scores again two minutes later to stretch the lead. Everybody thought this goal would finally put the game to bed as Takigawa, revelling in their 4-1 lead begin to dominate possession. With six minutes to go Higuchi runs behind the defenders but wastes one on one situation against the keeper and is immediately made to regret it when a few seconds later Kumiyama’s striker also gets behind Takigawa’s defence and chips a perfect lob over keeper to make it an incredible 4-2 and two minutes later and to everyone's amazement Kumiyama score again! There crowd in the stadium went wild and when the referee showed additional time is 5 minutes, and audience got even noisier. Kumiyama couldn't equalise, could they? Three minutes into stoppage time they were awarded a free-kick, 30 yards out on the right hand side. The man behind the ball hit it towards far side where the Kumiyama’s skipper was waiting. He headed it hard towards the goal! The crowd catch their breath but this time the ball goes harmlessly into the grateful keeper’s arms. A few seconds before full time, Takigawa’s bulldozer Higuchi scores from a counter attack to clinch the top scorer award and of course victory! The referee finally puts his whistle to his lips and blows for full time. The final score, an amazing 5-3 and it meant that Takigawa Second High School claimed the All Japan High School Soccer Tournament for the very first time, becoming the champion of 4,185 high schools in Japan.
With all the J-league fixtures finished for this season, there were a few surprises at finale. Last season’s 5th placed and J-league cup title holder FC Tokyo were relegated to J-league division 2 next season. They lost their last away game against Kyoto Sanga FC, while Vissel Kobe superbly beat Japanese football giants, Urawa Red Diamonds with a 3-0 score to avoid the drop and secure the last place for the top flight next season. Joys and Tears. Every year we can see that but it is really like separating those two teams, Heaven and Hell. However, I am quite sure that FC Tokyo will be able to come back to division one next season, that is because they have many young talented players, and is one of my favorite club.
J-league 2010 maybe over but the football season is not finished yet. We still have the Emperor’s cup, the All Japan High School Soccer Tournament, the Asian Cup and the January transfer window…there are plenty events to come. Today I will introduce some of great Japanese prospects. Some of them rumoured to be transferred in the upcoming January window.
Shinji Kagawa, 21, is currently playing for Borussia Dortmund in German Bundesliga. He moved to German side for only €350,000 from Cerezo Osaka. German media describes his transfer fee as ‘Tips’. That is because this little Japanese has already scored 10 goals so far this season. He mainly plays behind the striker. His strength is great agility to go forward and the skill in making good strategies. There is a rumour that Italian three big clubs; Internazionale, Juventus and AC Milan are keeping eye on him.
Keisuke Honda, 24, is currently playing for CSKA Moscow. This Japanese international midfielder started his career at Nagoya Grampus Eight and spent 3 years at VVV-Venlo in the Netherlands before moving to Russia. The biggest highlight of his career so far was the 2010 World Cup. Honda had already scored against Cameroon in the first match before he struck a brilliant free kick from 30 yards out. He also brilliantly set up Japan’s 3rd goal against Denmark to take Japan into knockout round. His trademark free kick is surely world class. Japan produce many good set piece takers, and he is one of the best of them all. The Japanese media reported that Liverpool and AC Milan have been linked with him and Liverpool have already made 9.0 million bid. I personally think Honda would really fit along with Torres and Gerrard for Liverpool.
Akihiro Ienaga, 24, is currently playing for Cerezo Osaka in J-league. He started playing football at Gamba Osaka junior youth academy at an early age playing alongside Keisuke Honda. Ienaga and Honda have much in common. Both are the same age, left footed, play as an attacking midfielder and also surprisingly share the same birthday. However, Ienaga’s strength resulted only after he was promoted to next level and Honda was forced to leave the club. After that, Ienaga broke into the senior squad in 2004 and helped Gamba Osaka to win their first J-league title the following year. In 2008, this talented man joined Plymouth Argyle on trial. Plymouth attempted to sign him but was denied by a work permit. His style of playing is very similar to Messi’s and when he is on form, it is rare to see his dribbling stopped. It has reported that two Spanish clubs, Atletico Madrid and RCD Mallorca are interested in signing him on January.
Takashi Usami, 18, is currently playing for J-league side Gamba Osaka. This young boy is known as ‘the masterpiece’ of Gamba Osaka’s youth academy, which turned out many good players such as former Arsenal and Fulham midfielder Junichi Inamoto, former Torino striker Masashi Oguro and the above mentioned Akihiro Ienaga. Usami scored 7goals in 26 appearances and won the best young player award this season. His pace and dribbling skills are outstanding, he is also good at set-pieces. When he was 16, Chelsea invited him to train in their first team however Usami rejected it preferring to play constantly in Japan.
Ryo Miyaichi, 17, is currently attending Chukyodai Chukyo High School, waiting for turning 18 to officially sign a 5-year contract with Arsenal after impressing their manager Arsene Wenger whilst on trial in the summer of 2009. He later broke his leg while he was on a further trial at Ajax. However the injury is not too bad to affect the contract. He impressed Arsene Wenger with his dribbling skill and especially his pace which is phenomenal. When this young midfielder hits top gear, he can easily pass two or three defenders at once. He is going to play in All Japan High School Soccer Tournament this December. If he shows what he is capable of, his team can hold onto the cup.
These are only a few examples out of a host of great Japanese footballers and most of them are relatively cheap. Now could be a great time for European clubs to invest in these highly talented Japanese players.
The J-league top division comes to an end with a new Champion.
May 15th, 1993. This is the date when the professional Japanese football league was established. Before that time, Baseball dominated most people’s interest over any other sports in the Far East. (Sumo might be the second favourite sport). But the J-league also increased Japanese people’s football enthusiasm, and turned it into one of the most popular sports here in Japan.
Nowadays, eighteen clubs are playing in first division and nineteen clubs in second division. In the beginning there were just ten clubs participating in J-league. These clubs are often called the ‘Original 10’. Six clubs out of ‘Original 10’ had already won the J-league title, and November 20th, 2010 there was a seventh as Nagoya Grampus Eight claimed their first title.
Nagoya Grampus Eight are based in Nagoya Aichi Prefecture and originally founded as the company team of the Toyota Motor Corporation. They are currently having a great spell under the former Grampus and Serbian international play-maker Dragan Stojković. Their defence is pretty solid with Japanese international keeper Narazaki and defender Tulio, who, you may remember, broke Drogba’s arm before World Cup 2010 on international duty.
Attacking is quite simple. When they get the ball, they give it to Kennedy. This 194cm Australian international striker helps it onto a supporting midfielder, feeds to them, and then knocks it in from their crosses.
Today’s match, the league leader Nagoya Grampus Eight take on Shonan Bellmare who are at the bottom of the table and already relegated to second division next season. Grampus have the possibility to clinch J-league title only if they win against Bellmare and 2nd placed Kashima Antlers draw or lose against Vissel Kobe.
In the 1st half, Grampus try to take possession but Kennedy was unable to keep the ball due to Bellmare’s pressure. Unexpectedly Bellmare create chances from right hand side but a lack of shot accuracy sees both teams are level after the first 45minutes.
Now into the second half, the match situation hasn't changed until Grampus’s manager Stojković finally makes up his mind. One substitution soon changes everything completely. Midfielder Ogawa walks off for Sugimoto. Three minutes after the replacement, Sugimoto passes the defender, provides a good cross and another international striker from Japan, Tamada heads into the net. Grampus take the lead and their dearest wish could be about to come true.
The match continues and Bellmare gain possession. But they have the lowest scoring record in the league. A few minutes before the final whistle blows, Kashima Antlers match finishes with a nil-nil draw against Vissel Kobe. That means Nagoya become the new champion of J-league division one. It is a historical day for one of the ‘original 10’.
Arsène Wenger on Nagoya Grampus Eight.
Arsène Wenger, former Grampus manager before joining in Arsenal, who helped the team winning the Emperor’s Cup and took his team from the bottom three to a runners-up finish in the J-League in 1995.
“Stojković was my former player and he came here many times to England when he became manager of Nagoya,”
“I am still in touch with Nagoya over their decisions. I am personally very happy, very proud because we started the work at Nagoya. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate them because it’s a fantastic achievement for them.
“When I arrived they called Nagoya the burden of the J-League. In the first season we finished second in the League and won the Cup, the Super Cup as well.
“The happiness of people who love football [was also a highlight]. We were sold out in every single game. That is not the case anymore now I’ve heard but at that time the enthusiasm of the people around the team was fantastic.”
Sunday 7th November 2010 The Sapporo Dome After a short autumn had passed it was getting cold and had already snowed in the northern part of Japan.Today’s match is held at the Sapporo Dome where England beat Argentina 1-0 with a David Beckham’s goal from the spot in the World cup 2002. This Stadium is also well-known to Japanese people as the home stadium of Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters baseball club. The most interesting thing about this 60,000 capacity venue is that it has two fields. Artificial turf for baseball games and a grass pitch which slides in and out of the stadium when needed for football matches.
Today’s match, Consadole Sapporo take on Jeff United Chiba in the J-league Division 2. Consadole are currently placed 15th in the table out of 19 clubs despite spending a lot on players this season.They were in the J-league division 1 in 2001, 2002 and 2008.They had many talented players, especially Hulk, who plays for FC Porto, scored 25goals in 38 matches for Consadole in 2006.
Jeff, are currently placed 4th in the table and are aiming to 3rd to get promoted. They are 7 points behind the promotion zone and there are 6 matches left including this away game. It is actually the first season for Jeff to play in Division 2 in their history. They won Nabisco Cup (which is like The Carling Cup in England) in 2005 and 2006. Leicester City’s midfielder Yuki Abe was the captain of the club when they won two successive championships.
So, this game is pretty much important for Jeff to be promoted while Consadole have made a few changes from the last match. Consadole are playing with 4-5-1 system including the 18 year old midfield player, Mikami in his first start of his career. Jeff start with a 4-3-3 system for this away match.
As soon as the match starts Jeff take possession and go forward. Consadole can’t keep the ball because there are not enough players up front as they were playing a defensive style. Jeff are creating many chances and also most of the shots hit the target but it isn’t enough to score because of all the shots don’t have the power.
10 minutes before half time, suddenly Consadole get a chance from a counter attack. Consadole’s defender Yoshihiro steals the ball and kicks it towards the striker Uchimura. He somehow manages to keep the ball and give it to Takaki, he shoots from distance but Jeff’s goal keeper parries it for a corner kick. It is the only chance that Consadole have in the first half.
It seems like Bolton play in Japan, kicking the ball towards striker (Kevin Davies), who probably wins most aerial battles and passes it to midfielders behind of him to take shots. Needless to say, the football quality between Consadole and Bolton are very much different… Anyway, No injuries, NO fights, not much happened in the first half while Jeff possessed more than 70% of the first 45 minutes.
10 minutes break before 2nd half. I was listening to the Consadole’s fans talking. They were talking about how many goals Consadole would concede in the second half. They were laughing and predicted it would be 3 goals. In England, if it’s nil-nil after the first 45 minutes, everyone will watch the rest of the match with some expectation to win. I probably found the reason why Consadole are always the underdog, unless their fans change their approach to football, Consadole won’t be able to get back on the top flight again. That is why I am not really into my local football club…
Jeff with no changes are surprised to see Consadole haven’t made any changes either. In contrast to the first half, Consadole take control from the beginning of the second half. Within three minutes of the restart Consadole have a big chance to go in front, Mikami provides a magnificent through ball to striker Uchimura but his decent effort goes inches wide.
Two minutes after the chance they had, Consadole get a corner kick. Uesato curls the ball to the near post but Uchimura heads it over the bar. Eleven minutes into second half, Jeff make their first substitution. Kurata is replaced by Yonekura.
Yonekura comes on and Jeff gain possessions. Both teams are going forward and have many shots. But the goalkeepers for both sides make a lot of great saves, especially Consadole’s goalkeeper, Takahara, he denies many scoring opportunities.
Less than 20 minutes to full time, Sapporo make two changes. Miyazawa and Sunakawa come on instead of 18 year old Mikami and striker Uchimura before Jeff make two changes. This substitution has an immediate impact, on 87 minutes Miyazawa heads into the net from Sunakawa’s early cross! And it was the only goal in the 90 minutes. Jeff suffered an unexpected defeat despite having 22 shots and now it will be very difficult to gain promotion. They drop to 5th as Consadole move up to 13th of the table. It was a disappointing match because I could only see one goal from 34 shots from both sides.
Actually it was the first time for me to watch The J-league in the stadium and I was very surprised that 12,656 people came to watch this non-title match. This match is like Fulham playing against Sunderland for nothing. Well, I mentioned it earlier but must say that the quality of J-league Division 2 is surely lower than Championship. If Tommy Smith and Marlon King played in this league, they would be like Messi and Anelka!