Now you do know that yesterday, Italy beat Japan in a thrilling 4-3 at the Confederations Cup. And you know that Japan played very well.
And you also know that the Guardian Online comment section is the treasure trove for football information. So here’s an amazing comment about Japanese football from Allisgrace, Guardian poster; about Japan as a footballing nation. I remember reading about the start of the J-League, in 1992. And look where they have come in the last 20 years. There is indeed hope for Indian football, with proper planning and structure. Here’s an excerpt;
Actually, Japanese football is a true miracle in football history. Their professional league was just set up barely 2 decades ago (i.e. 1992). Japanese are a people so organised, patient and determined. From day one, realizing their physical constraints, they decided they should learn to play football in a style largely based on technique than physicality. So they chose Brazilian football. By recruiting top Brazilian players (e.g. Dunga) and coaches (e.g Zico) to play in their league, they gradually learned everything they wanted. Only 6 years after they first played professional football, they already qualified their first WC in 1998 and since then made appearances in every WC.
Over the last 20 years, they kept producing top players with excellent skills like Nakata and Nakamura. But due to cultural and language barriers, most of their players seldom went overseas. So in their past WCs they usually lacked experience and didn’t do well and were overlooked by the world. But finally in the past few years, top European leagues, especially the Bundesliga, seemed to begin to find the jewels in the abundant talents of Japanese players, who are always technically sound, disciplined and hard working. With most players of their current squad playing in top European leagues week in week out, it’s not exaggerated to say they will be a dark horse next year.
But some of their problems are obvious. First of all they are still, comparatively speaking, not athletic enough, which means they could struggle playing against very physical teams. Last match against Brazil is an example. But a more clear evidence is to watch them playing against Korea, their long time rival in Asia, who play a very physical game. When they met, Japan usually get the upper hand but struggle to beat them.
Another weakness is their inability to close a game. Like the match we just witnessed, they created a lot of chances but couldn’t score enough. In fact, the devoid of a world class striker has been a problem haunting them for years.
Lastly, psychologically they are still not solid enough when they face the traditional football powerhouses. Being a rising power, they more or less still don’t believe they are able to win them, particularly when they face Brazil, their footballing master. In recent years, we have seen some progress as they got a record of beating Argentina and France. But they are just friendlies. A breakthrough win in a major tournament against one of the superpowers will boost their confidence and self-belief to another level. When that match comes into being, they surely will be the rising sun of the Far East shinning in a new football landscape.