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Team Preview: Japan [2018 World Cup 32/32]
2018.06.08 13:33 sga1Team Preview: Japan [2018 World Cup 32/32]
Hello everyone, and welcome back to the last edition of our /soccer World Cup preview series! Word has just reached me that deception42 is in a North Korean prison. Apparently, a disagreement with a well-known Preston superfan in a night club in Pyongyang ended in bloodshed, and I’m not quite convinced we’ll be able to get the murder charges dropped. Luckily, I’ll have a bit of time to focus on that now that the work on the World Cup preview series is done. Today we're discussing Japan with the assistance of notsuicidal10!
Nickname(s): サムライ・ブルー (Samurai Blue) Association: Japan Football Association (JFA) 日本サッカー協会 Confederation: AFC (Asia) Head coach: Akira Nishino Captain: Makoto Hasebe Most caps: Yasuhito Endō (152) Top scorer: Kunishige Kamamoto (80) FIFA ranking: 61
If you go back far into Japan’s history it gets pretty confusing, so I’ll try to start with the emergence of shoguns. In 1192, the Kamakura shogunate emerged, and in layman’s terms he was in charge of the military so he was in charge of Japan, whereas the emperor took up a symbolic role. Two attempted Mongol invasions and a few changes in leadership later—a complication in the accession of the shogun role leads to the country having a massive civil war, entering ‘the warring states period’ or 戦国時代. In the midst of this Oda Nobunaga emerges as the leader at Kyoto and attempts to unify Japan (天下統一). Whilst doing this, Oda dies and Toyotomi Hideyoshi follows his mission by unifying Japan. Hideyoshi makes a bunch of reforms and formally brings an end to the warring states period, but he dies while his son is really young. The powerful lords who were assigned as quasi-stewards say, fuck waiting for the new shogun, and decide to duke it out for the position between themselves. At the end of this royal rumble, Tokugawa Ieyasu comes into power. Ieyasu and his descendants then reign for a long time. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the Tokugawa shogunate is the ‘isolationist’ (鎖国) policy they took up, which led to an extended period of peace and an explosion of culture in Japan, but the country also suffered from not being able to bring in western innovations. Japan as we know it emerged out of a few countries growing very impatient over Japan’s isolationist foreign policy under the Tokugawa shogunate. In 1853, Matthew C. Perry arrived in Japan with massive steamships demanding Japan open itself up to the west. To shorten things quite a bit, the Boshin War occurred and the shogun got overthrown. Japan also decided to open itself up and this led to a massive age of reform beginning with ‘the Meiji Restoration’ which saw the emperor reclaim his position from the shogun. What followed was years of westernization, that culminated in Japan fighting the Chinese and Russians during the late 1800s and early 1900s in the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars. However, the Great Kanto Earthquake, a massive financial crisis in tandem with the Great Depression in the west, and several poor harvests in the 1920s threatened to undo Japan’s modernization, and Japan’s increasingly desperate state led to radicalization within the population and the government. What follows is well known. What started as a bit of fun on the Mukden Railway ended with two atomic bombs. Japan did quite a few bad things during those two events. Following the war, Japan was occupied by the United States who put a great deal of effort into the development of Japan in order to create a strong ally against Communism in the East. Post-occupation Japan saw extreme economic growth, and at one point Japan was one of the top 3 economic powers in the world. Modern Japan boasts considerable economic strength, and is well known for producing high quality automobiles, electronics, and pixelated porn. Although the future of Japan is worrisome due to the ageing population, that is a story for another day. For a more detailed version, consult this via notsuicidal10
Japan is a country still somewhat new to the footballing world. In the 1980s, the Japanese football league was populated by amateur teams playing in front of sparse crowds and perhaps the most notable thing about Japanese football at the time was Captain Tsubasa. However, there was a drastic change of scenery in 1992. That fateful year saw the birth of the J League, Japan winning its first AFC Asian Cup hosted within the country, and Ryo Miyaichi was born. The birth of the J League saw a huge rise in the popularity of football, as players such as Zico, Gary Lineker, Dunga, Dragan Stojkovic, Ramon Diaz, and Leonardo graced the newly created scene. Amongst these stars stood Japan’s greatest superstar—Kazuyoshi Miura (King Kazu) and he is still playing today. However, in order to sustain this footballing bubble that was happening domestically, Japan needed to do something on the international stage. The opportunity to make a mark presented itself in the shape of the 1994 World Cup in America. Japan was progressing well in its group, and fate was in their hands—needing a win against Iraq in order to progress to their first ever World Cup. Japan scored early on in the game through Miura, but Iraq equalized in the 55th minute to cast some doubt into qualification. However, in the 69th minute, Nakayama but Japan back in front and it looked as if the dizzy heights of the World Cup was in sight. Alas, in the 89th minute Iraq pulled back an equalizer and denied Japan—leading to the game being dubbed ‘the Tragedy of Doha.’ Japanese football somehow managed to regroup from this drastic setback, and set its sights on the 1998 World Cup. In 1996, Japan was selected as joint World Cup hosts with South Korea, and the Japanese people nervously set their eyes on qualifying for the 1998 tournament in order to avoid being the first World Cup hosts to never actually feature in a World Cup. Asian qualifiers at the time followed a qualification system with 10 groups, with the winners of each group entering a second group stage featuring 2 groups of 5 countries—out of which the leaders of the groups automatically qualified for the World Cup, whilst the runners up entered a playoff. Japan finished second in their group and advanced to the playoffs where they faced Iran. At the end of 90 minutes, the game was tied and entered golden goals. However, in the 118th minute Masayuki Okano—selected for his relentless runs behind the backline—finished a rebound from a shot unleashed by a 20 year old Hidetoshi Nakata, to finish the game dubbed ‘The Joy of Johor Bahru.’ Since then, football has become one of the national sports in Japan, as most children tend to play either football or baseball, when it used to just be baseball. Indeed, the football boom is perhaps best illustrated by the influx in media concerning football; where there was only Captain Tsubasa, weebs can now choose from Giant Killing, Inazuma Eleven, The Knight in the Area, DAYS, Kickoff to the Galaxy!!, Whistle!, and many more. Furthermore, Japanese players have gone overseas to ply their trade, and players like Nakata, Nakamura, Ono, Inamoto, and in more recent years Kagawa, Uchida, Nagatomo, Someoka, Honda, and Yoshida making a mark in Europe. In order to sustain the popularity of football however, it is imperative that Japan does well at football. However, in recent years Japan hasn’t been doing as well as it would hope. Indeed, in its annual athlete popularity rankings Oricon listed Kagawa in 8th and Honda in 9th for 2017, behind the likes of Yuzuru Hanyu, Shohei Ohtani, Kohei Uchimura, Kei Nishikori, and Masahiro Tanaka. The common factor amongst these aforementioned athletes is that they are all leaders within their sport. Therefore, if the national team—and the players that make up the team—fails to succeed, the sport will not flourish within the country; indeed, the national team is not playing for immediate gratification, it is playing for the continued success of the sport within Japan. Japan has featured in every World Cup since 1998, and has entered the round of 16 on two occasions. At the 2014 World Cup, Japan bowed out at the group stages after only managing to eke out a draw against a stubborn Greece. However, this World Cup presents a slightly more complicated scene as will be explained below. via notsuicidal10
Japan lined up with a 3-4-2-1, but I tweaked it a bit to include Sakai and Inui who were coming back from injury. The team could also line up in a 4-2-3-1. Then again, Nishino has only been in charge for one game so no one is really sure. Players who are more or less guaranteed to start are: Kawashima, Hasebe, Yoshida, Nagatomo, and Sakai H—the attack is very much unsettled. via notsuicidal10
Players to Watch
Keisuke Honda: Keisuke Honda is an interesting man. There is a famous story of his younger days about the time he participated in the draw for the All Japan High School Soccer Tournament. Honda managed to see the teams involved in the draw, and chose to grab one of the strongest schools in the competition to play them in the first round. It takes such a person to reportedly spend the equivalent of £150,000 on haircuts every year and wear wristwatches on both wrists. It also takes a special kind of person to beat that team he chose (captained by Okazaki) 4-3, justify the haircuts he gets, and actually kind of pull off the double wristwatch look. In the lead up to the 2014 World Cup, Honda famously said Japan would win the World Cup. Now to see if he can make his claim come true at the second time of asking. In recent years, Keisuke Honda has emerged as something of a symbol of the national team, and it’s hard to imagine the team without him. However, one person who could envision such a sight was Japan’s former head coach, Vahid Halilhodzic, who routinely started with Honda on the bench throughout the World Cup qualification campaign. With a change in management, Honda is bound to receive some time on the pitch in what is bound to be his last World Cup. Honda is a playmaker with a wicked left foot, and in the national team he is deployed on the right wing in order to cut inside as a wide playmaker. Honda also is a dead ball specialist, and will likely be in charge of Japan’s set pieces. Yuya Osako: Yuya Osako burst onto the Japanese football scene with a bang, as he had 10 goals and 10 assists in 6 games at the All Japan High School Soccer Tournament. That display led to him being touted as the greatest player ever to play football, and many suspected that he’d eclipse even the greatest Japanese export—Tsubasa Ozora. Osako has moved on to Germany, where he made a name for himself playing at TSV Munchen, and then Koln. Osako has recently secured a move to Werder Bremen following the opening of the Summer transfer window. People shouldn’t expect Osako to be much a prolific goalscorer at the World Cup, as his specialty is holding up the ball and bringing other players into the game. Expect to see him on the ends of goal kicks. Depending on Japan’s game plan, and what the manager wants from his frontman, the quicker Yoshinori Muto may even start instead of him to offer an option running in behind the backline. Takashi Inui: Takashi Inui is leaving Eibar this season after enjoying 3 productive seasons at the club, and has decided to move onto Real Betis. Inui is one of the best dribblers in Japan, as he uses his diminutive frame and agility to glide past players. Inui returned to the national setup during the qualification campaign after experiencing a brief hiatus due to not being selected. In the games he has played, he’s managed to look electric on the ball and has been a great source of creativity on the left flank. With Nishino coming in, it’ll be interesting to see how he uses Inui—if at all. However, if Inui is chosen you can expect to see him leaving opposition players bewildered with his excellent dribbling. Keep in mind however, that Inui is not a guaranteed starter as he faces stiff competition on the left flank in the shape of Usami and Kagawa. In the 3-4-2-1 system, Inui will likely be seen cutting in from the left wing onto his favoured right foot. Ryota Oshima Amidst all the established names in the Japanese squad, Ryota Oshima is a rather fresh face. Oshima plays for Kawasaki Frontale in the J League and partners the experienced Kengo Nakamura in midfield at club level. Just like all of Japan’s notable players, Oshima excels with the ball at his feet and plays in a slightly advanced midfield role. However, Oshima’s defensive capabilities are improving by the day and he also is able to dictate the tempo of games. Indeed, these specialties in Oshima’s play helped his team win the J League last season, with many touting him as one of the best midfielders in the league. At this World Cup, Oshima has the potential to be a massive breakout player. Expect to see him in a 2 man midfield partnered by a slightly more defensive midfielder such as Yamaguchi or Hasebe. via notsuicidal10
Points of Discussion
A change of management: With 2 months until the World Cup, the JFA decided that enough was enough and got rid of Vahid Halilhodzic, replacing him with Akira Nishino. As for why this move was made, it has been rumoured that the experienced players who were being excluded put pressure on the FA to replace Halilhodzic. Indeed, Halilhodžić frequently left out players like Honda, Kagawa, and Okazaki—whilst playing an extremely dynamic game that required them to run a bit more than they want to. Another argument is that Halilhodzic played a brand of football not suited to Japanese players, as Japanese people seem to think they are more suited to possession-oriented football rather than Halilhodzic’s direct football. Then again, these are all rumors and in reality we’ll likely never know why the head coach was changed this late. With this move, and the simple fact that Nishino only has 2 games with the team until the World Cup, many Japanese people have given up on this World Cup and don’t think the Japan will get out of the group stage. In terms of what you can expect out of Nishino tactically, an attacking style based on possession has been a theme throughout his managerial career at club level. However, when Nishino was in charge of the national team at the Atlanta Olympics, his team adapted their approach to each opponent—setting up defensively against Brazil, whilst taking up a gung ho approach against Hungary. You can expect to see a lot of analysis on opposition weaknesses, and a different approach to each game that’s adapted to each foe. Out with the new, in with the old: The recent squad announcement led to many people questioning why various players weren’t selected. Incidentally, these players seemed to have the shared characteristic of being fairly young and promising. Fresh faces like Shoya Nakajima, Ritsu Doan, Ryota Morioka, Tatsuya Ito, and Takumi Minamino enjoyed good seasons at their respective clubs but missed out. In what is looking like a bit of a throwaway World Cup, a lot of Japanese people are wondering why the manager isn’t at least taking the opportunity to blood some young players in at the biggest stage. Age is also a massive concern in the team, as the problem of the national team getting older almost parallels the problem that Japan faces with its aging population. In fact, the average age of the players selected in the preliminary squad is almost 28. It will be interesting to see if this aging squad made up largely of the unsuccessful 2008 Olympic Squad can actually come up big for a tournament that’ll most certainly be their swan song. The end of a golden age? The previous bit perfectly leads into this point of discussion. In the lead up to the announcement of the national team, the media made a big hubbub about ‘the big 3’ of Kagawa, Honda, and Okazaki being uncertain picks for the tournament. Indeed, those three have led the national team as far back as the lead up to the 2010 tournament, and it will be strange to see them go. Though they could definitely all go to another world cup, 2022 would see Kagawa be 33, Honda at 35, and Okazaki at 36. Similarly, players like Atsuto Uchida, Eiji Kawashima, Makoto Hasebe, Yuto Nagatomo, and Maya Yoshida may also be seeing their final World Cup (in the case of Uchida, on the TV). All of these players, at one point or another, played in Europe and nailed down spots in top teams across the continent. Yet this generation might be seeing their last World Cup, with the highlight of their time under the sun being an exit at the hands of Paraguay in the knockout stages of the 2010 tournament when most of them were still youngsters. Where does this exodus leave Japan? Who takes up Kawashima’s mantle as Japan’s (inconsistently brilliant) number 1 keeper? Who takes up Hasebe’s mantle as Japan’s captain? Who takes up Kagawa’s mantle as Japan’s number 10 who can’t finish his breakfast? Who takes up Honda’s mantle as the polarizing superstar? A lot of questions will need to be answered at, and after, this World Cup. Indeed, this World Cup may turn out to be a quite drastic turning point for this national team. via notsuicidal10 Thank you again to notsuicidal10 for the insight into Japan! This concludes our World Cup preview series. Massive thanks to deception42, who organised all of this, and everyone who contributed and shared their knowledge. It's great seeing people from all over the world come together over a common passion, and we all learned a fair bit not only about the teams in the World Cup, but also the countries they represent. Refer to the stickied comment below to see all of the previews, and enjoy the tournament! Quick note: Now that you’re all well informed about the participants in this tournament, why not also take part in our Official /soccer World Cup Bracket competition? We’ll hand out some reddit gold as prize on top of the winner earning eternal bragging rights!
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