Though any Japanese fan and some editorials will tell you differently, Japan has no chance next week in South Africa. They have been a mediocre team throughout their history, but this year they really have even less to be proud of.
Most of their players come from their domestic league, the J-League. Some have called it the best league outside of Europe and South America, but that is not saying much as both the aforementioned continents have many mediocre leagues comparable with their Japanese equivalent. Only 4 players in the national team come from European leagues; they are: Daisuke Matsui, Makoto Hasebe, Keisuke Honda and Takayuki Morimoto and they play for Grenoble, Wolfsburg, CSKA Moscow and Catania respectively. Their star man, Shunsuke Nakamura, recently returned to the J-league after a failed attempt at playing in the Spanish League. Honda and Morimoto are quite important for their teams however and have lifted CSKA to the quarter finals of the Champions League and an improbable 13th place in the Italian League respectively.
Still, this leaves a very young, internationally inexperienced squad apart from them. Their defenders are all home grown and generally unimpressive and it’s hard to imagine them holding their own against any of their Group E opponents. One must only look at their two own goals conceded to England or the Karate fly kick delivered to Didier Drogba by disaster star Marcus Tulio Tanaka to understand this (to his credit, he only scored one of the own goals and also scored one for his team).
Further, their inexperienced coach, whose resume reads like lower division dweller, recently planted some serious seeds of unrest in the dressing room by threatening to quit the team, only to back paddle shortly thereafter and pretend it was all a joke.
Says Takeshi Okada: “I wasn’t speaking in all seriousness and I should have chosen my words more carefully. I’ve selected the players and I’m responsible for them, so there’s no way I intend to resign now.”
Thus it is Nakamura, who has a decent goal scoring record for his national team (16 goals in 29 matches), that carries any faint hope the Japanese have. But as a famous sportsman one said “offense wins games, defense wins titles.” Therefore the most likely scenario is that Japan might win or draw one of their group games, only to lose the rest and finish in dead last.
Their past world cup history reinforces this prediction, as this is only the 4th world cup they have qualified for. They were able to come out of their group only once in 2002, when they were hosting the tournament. Therefore don’t put your hopes on Japan next week.
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