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Thursday, June 29, 2006

RIP Zico Japan

さよならジーコ監督

In a final interview at the Japan Football Association in Tokyo several days prior to this morning's departure for Brazil, Coach Zico claimed with a straight face that he had no regrets and would not have changed a thing about Japan’s World Cup campaign. Longtime Zico watchers will not be surprised, but those vaguely in touch with the tenuous concept known as reality were stunned.

Having just been humiliated—Japan managed but one legitimate goal and just one point from three matches—Zico placed blame for the quick exit on the players’ physiques. Asian players are too small and cannot compete with larger players from other parts of the world, according to the once great Brazilian.

Hello? A very cursory look at some of the big names of this year’s (and a few from the past) World Cup reveals the following heights:

Javier Saviola: 168 cm
Lionel Messi: 169 cm
Pavel Nedved: 170 cm
Pablo Aimar: 170 cm
Robinho: 172 cm
Pele: 172 cm
Zico: 172 cm
Carlos Tevez: 173 cm
Landon Donovan: 173 cm
Michael Owen: 173 cm
Silvain Wiltord: 174 cm
David Villa: 175 cm
Deco: 175 cm
Wayne Rooney: 177 cm
Henrik Larsson: 178 cm
Ronaldinho: 178 cm
Alex Frei: 180 cm
Fernando Torres: 180 cm
Francesco Totti: 180 cm
Arjen Robben: 180 cm
Lukas Podolski: 180 cm
Naohiro Takahara: 180 cm

There are of course many exceptions; and players are indeed bigger and better conditioned than in the past. However, Latin players tend to be the same size or not much larger than their Asian rivals, particularly those from Iran. Moreover, many of the northern European strikers are small—but quick and tough. On the backline, true, the Japanese are relatively small. Still, not all great defenders are massive: Spain’s Carlos Puyol and Holland’s Giovanni van Bronkhorst are both 1.78 cm. What they have in abundance, though, is skill—and grit.

However, to assign blame for the Asian Cup champions’ failure to progress to the second round to body type is not merely absurd but a convenient way of diverting attention from the true source of the problem: Zico himself and, sad to say, the lack of mental toughness of the Japanese players themselves. With few exceptions, Japanese players have no balls.

Match 1: Australia (1-3)
Australia displayed everything Japan does not have: aggression, passion, grit. The boys from Oz were not going to lose, the one “goal” Japan scored notwithstanding. In the second half, Coach Guus Hiddink subbed in Tim Cahill. From that point on, Australia poured forward. In contrast, Zico put on Shinji Ono to shore up the middle. Instead, confusion ensued. Goalkeeper Kawaguchi made save after save and kept the score lower than it might have been.

Match 2: Croatia (0-0)

Again, Zico waited until too late to sub in. In the sweltering heat, Japan’s players were running on empty. Fortunately, so too was Croatia. With just 10 minutes to go, Zico finally sends on a replacement forward. And, once again, goalkeeper Kawaguchi was very sharp. He stopped a penalty, saving Japan from another loss.

Match 3: Brazil (1-4)

Ironically, Japan played its best soccer of the tournament in the loss to Brazil. Thanks to Reiji Tamada’s sudden strike, Japan went up 1-0. They relaxed and played the back and forth, up and down the field kind of soccer they are capable of. However, against Brazil, you need at least two or three goals at the start. Finishing killed Japan. World class finishing, which Japan has yet to discover.

New Coach: Ivica Osim

The best news out of Japan—after Zico’s departure—is the signing of Ivica Osim, the current JEF United and former Serbia coach. He looks set to stay on through the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Unlike Zico, Osim is a true coach. He has taken lowly JEF and turned them into a respectable side. He is known as a taskmaster.

His biggest problem will be the mess Zico has left him. In addition to the poor results in the Cup, nearly every player on the Japanese side in Germany was in his mid- or late twenties. Zico stuck with Japan’s best, rarely if ever calling up younger players for friendlies. This will evince itself as Japan attempts to qualify for the next World Cup. With Nakata and Shunsuke and Ono aging and no younger players with experience, Japan will struggle.

Japanese Soccer

Keywords
Japan
Tokyo
Soccer
Zico

1 comment:

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    thank you!

    ReplyDelete