Six best Japan’s victories

Pele is my Homie

Yes, this is after a Guardian Football article. On the greatest victories of United States, written after the 1-0 upset against Italy in last week’s friendly, just when Japan surprisingly went down to Uzbekistan by the same score. So, as United States have their moments, and after seeing how Japanese forwards soon back at scoring goals and providing assists for their clubs in Europe*, I want to look at the Samurai Blue’s finest hours and halves. Unfortunately I won’t do the same for Korea since they have not won the Asian Cup for fifty years, and they have never been in Confederations Cup.

*Dortmund-Mainz 2-1 (Kagawa 77), Vitesse-de Graafschap 2-0 (Havenaar 73), VVV-NAC 2-1 (Cullen 85, Yoshida 87), Stuttgart-Hamburg 4-0 (Okazaki won a penalty kick for Kuzmanovic), Lierse-Leuven 0-0 (…okay, clean sheet for Kawashima)

1. Japan 15-0 Philippines, 1967 Olympics qualification

This is not in for the sheer brutality. Fifty years before, Philippines inflicted the worst defeat ever for Japan, 2-15, also in Tokyo during the Far Eastern Championship (see? Japan’s always crap when it comes to EAFF). That 1917 humiliation came the day after the Republic of China put five without reply against Japan – and might be responsible for the lack of interest of soccer (yes, Americans are not the only ones who call it soccer). Philippines, on the other hand, were one of the pioneers of football in Asia, especially since the Americans were keener to share the love for the sport, compared to the British in Singapore and Hong Kong.

After World War 2, however, Philippines lost interest at football just like the Americans did (despite the 1950 World Cup). In Japan, football was also behind rugby union, although the richest and advanced nation in Asia was keen to participate in any kind of international tournament, especially after hosting the 1964 Olympics, where the host defeated Argentina 3-2 before succumbed 0-4 to Czechoslovakia in QF.

The carnage against Philippines came in the first matchday of Group 1 qualification in Japan. Had the JFA received more funds and better training, names like Kunishige Kamamoto and Teruyuki Miyamoto could become the legends of Asia. You never heard of them unless you were Japanese (or an Asian football geek), since Japan didn’t come to 1964 Asian Cup and lost to Taiwan in the 1968 qualification. That’s right, Taiwan cared about football back in 1960s, continuing its Republic of China tradition. Even, Philippines’ lineup for the fateful day featured many ethnic Chinese. How the times have changed.

Japan had led two nil by five minutes, and 23 year old Kamamoto, who played for Yanmar Diesel (now Cerezo Osaka), scored his first at the 16th minute. He gained his third goal by the half hour mark. 27 year old Miyamoto (Yawata Steel, folded in 1999) had opened his account four minutes before. In total, Kamamoto scored six (including the last one one minute before time), while Miyamoto had four. Other scorers were Ryuichi Sugiyama, substitute Yasuyuki Kuwahara, and Masashi Watanabe. Poor goalkeeper Fertes was not substituted.

Japan continued its rampage the next days by beating Taiwan and Lebanon, before being held 3-3 by Korea despite 2-0 lead at half time. In Mexico City (Puebla, actually), Kamamoto scored hattrick against Nigeria (3-1), while Japan survived draws against Brazil and Spain (Watanabe, who also played for Yawata, scored against Brazil). Hungary humiliated them 0-5 but in the fight for bronze medal, Kumamoto scored two to upset the hosts. Had only he was born forty years later.

2. Japan 3-2 China, 1992 Asian Cup

It was the cruel irony for Korea. They had established themselves as the East Asian representatives for World Cup, twice. Japan had nothing against them (even well, to this day?). They even just hosted the Olympics to boot. Yet Japan, which just created a professional league, won the rights to host the Asian Cup, something that Korea has never done (really, this is a gap in the checklist for a country which has hosted a World Cup and will host the Winter Olympics). Yet, the Tigers didn’t have to visit Japan – they were knocked out in the qualification by…Thailand.

Japan won the Group A unconvincingly, earning narrow victory against Iran while played draws against North Korea and 1990’s West Asian representatives/whipboys UAE. And Japan consisted of J.League celebrities such as Ruy Ramos, Kazuyoshi Miura, and Masashi Nakayama. Were they overhyped? (in Japan there’s no such thing as ‘overhyped’ and ‘overrated’) Could they really qualify to USA 1994?

So they faced China in semi-final, which had good knack for coming back from one goal deficit, both against favorite Saudi Arabia and Qatar (Thailand failed to live up their credibility as the dark horses). China’s mistake was that they scored earlier. Xie Yuxin, first Chinese player to play in Europe (PEC Zwolle, which ceased business in 1990) scored right off the bat. The score stayed for 45 minutes, looked like Japan would blow it. Then, Masahiro Fukada (Urawa) scored three minutes into the second half, and Tsuyoshi Kitazawa (Verdy Kawasaki) turned over the game ten minutes later. But! China kept the drama alive through Li Xiao, before Masahi Nakayama (Jubilo, in case you forget) won it for the host six minutes from time.

So Japan defeated their best available East Asian rivals, which came close from creating an upset. They improved the defence and won the final match against Saudi Arabia through Takuya Takagi (Hiroshima)’s single goal. China have never been against a scary threat for Japan (at least the footballers) while Koreans only could see in envy when MVP Kazu Miura lifted the trophy. They would have the last laugh the following year.

3. Japan 8-1 Uzbekistan, 2000 Asian Cup

You could say that Japan flunked it. After winning the Asian Cup, they failed to qualify to the World Cup, J. League clubs were languishing in Asian Championship, they experienced that foreign coaches (who were also subjected into overexposure) could take the team into implosion rather than glory, while local coach Shu Kamo survived despite losses in 1995 King Fahd’s Cup and 1996 Asian Cup. They qualified to France in ugly manners and lost to Jamaica despite honorable 0-1 losses to Argentina and Croatia.

So – Japan would become the co-host of 2002 World Cup, and the leadership fell into Phillipe Troussier, who spent his managing career in Africa. While the senior team became a disappointing guest at the Copa America, the U-20 team reached the final of World Youth Championship. The young players were believed to be the great hope – figures such as Naohiro Takahara, Shinji Ono, and Atsushi Yanagisawa.

And Japan opened the West Asian campaign with a bang by humiliating Saudi Arabia 4-1, where young boys Takahara and Yanagisawa shined. Then came the humiliation of Uzbekistan. Both Takahara (Jubilo) and Akinori Nishizawa (Cerezo) scored hattricks. The scoreline was already 5-1 in the first half. It was a quiet silent atmosphere at Sidon, where only 2 thousands watched the game. Japan failed to impress in the third game against Qatar (some might say that they conserved energy). The semi final against China was a repeat of 1992 – China led by 2-1 with 50 minutes of play, and Japan’s goal came courtesy of Fan Zhiyi’s own goal. Nishizawa and Tomozaku Myojin (Kashiwa) saved the day, and the final was also a repeat of 1992 – Japan defeated Saudi Arabia 1-0. How the development had come a long way for Uzbekistan (other Central Asian countries couldn’t follow and Kazakhstan defected to UEFA two years later), and how Japan could be really irresistible in a big tournament.

4. Japan 1-0 Russia, 2002 World Cup

It’s never nice to draw analogy between football and military history, but coincidentally, Japan usually graduated by beating Russia. It seemed that the co-host had better draw than Korea which got Portugal and United States, but it was not that easy. Russia were top of the group in the qualification and banished the chances of Yugoslavia and Switzerland. Belgium were better than Scotland, and after all, qualified while their bigger, more handsome brother Netherlands failed. In short, Japan’s best hope was to defeat Tunisia, but the same thing could be said for Jamaica in 1998.

Korea won their first World Cup match by convincing 2-0 victory against Poland, so Japan felt the emotional pressure to do the same against Belgium. It was not to happen. Naohiro Takahara sadly had to miss the tournament to injury, while fans were outraged that Shunsuke Nakamura was not chosen by Troussier. Japan featured household names of Hide Nakata, Junichi Inamoto, and Shinji Ono in the midfield, and Nakamura would have completed the circle, with Myojin if necessary. As for forward, Japan relied on Yanagisawa and Takayuki Suzuki, who was impressive during the 2001 Confederations Cup where he scored a brace against Cameroon.

Suzuki did deliver to counter Marc Wilmots’ goal, and Japan were on path of victory after Inamoto scored (lesson: dyed blondes win). But van der Heyden equalized and Japan failed to match Korean achievement. Russia, meanwhile, had defeated Tunisia and were leading the group.

Troussier replaced Daisuke Ichikawa on the starting lineup with Myojin while retaining Kazuyuki Toda. Russia, however, switched from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 and reserved Beschastnykh, supposedly to face on Japan’s 3-5-2 formation. First half came tough. The sign of the crack up came in the second half when forward Pimenov (why not Vladimir B from the start?) was replaced by Sychev. Five minutes later, Inamoto scored. Beschastnykh came as Russia’s third sub before the hour mark, and you can smell fear behind Oleg Romantsev’s neck. Not Tsushima again. Suzuki failed to endanger Russia and was replaced by Nakayama – the curtain call for his hours of fame. Japan celebrated its first World Cup win after five attempts, compared to Korea’s 15. Although Tunisia held Belgium, Japan knew Round 2 was on the bag. And so they proceed with 2-0 victory. The unfortunate casualties were Japanese nationals who were beaten up by angry Russian fans. Tsushima indeed.

5. Japan 3-1 Denmark, 2010 World Cup

2000s were a game of two halves for Japan. While Korea eternally remembered 2002 with a smile despite later controversies, Japan retained the Asian Cup and won the honor of defeating Greece, the bane of Europe, in 2005 Confederations Cup.You could say the overconfidence ruled before the 2006 World Cup, as the media put too much trust on Zico (understandable for Kashima fans) and captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto even had the time to organize girls’ futsal match. When Germany 2006 came, Japan went in for rude awakening that only Shunsuke Nakamura and Keiji Tamada could actually play.

2007 Asian Cup were not supposed to be that bad for Japan – until they lost to Saudi – and then to Korea. Ivica Osim and his JEF United team were disgraced, and the victory against Australia was soon forgotten. The pessimism prevailed just before the 2010 World Cup as accountant/system engineer Takeshi Okada returned. Japan lost four friendly matches throughout April-May 2010, conceded at least two goals each time.

Blonde Keisuke Honda, however, prevailed over Samuel Eto’o. But when Netherlands prevailed and Japan had to win against Denmark, the analogy with the fate of Korea in 2006 appeared. Korea then defeated Togo, held France, but failed to go on after lost soundly to Switzerland. Denmark had the same points with Japan after defeated Cameroon.

Fans and players complained about the difficulty of employing free kick using the adidas Jabulani ball. Japan proved that it was not a big deal. Both Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo outwitted Denmark’s wall and Thomas Sorensen. Denmark returned through a penalty kick’s rebound, but then Honda rampaged and passed the ball beyond Sorensen to Shinji Okazaki. Usually only teams like Germany, Brazil, or Netherlands could beat Denmark with two goals margin like that. Japan failed to conquer Paraguay, which was motivated by model Larissa Riquelme who promised she would go nude in front of the team had they won the World Cup. But Japan, and also Korea, had proved that in the 21st century, Asian teams were no longer pushovers.

6. Japan 1-0 (0-0) Australia, 2011 Asian Cup

Australia want a friendly rivalry with Japan over the mastery of Asia. Japan might have taken the challenge after the outrage at Germany 06, although its real derby is against Republic of Korea. In any case, Japan and Australia were the top favorites to win, although the championship was held in West Asia. Japan started roughly, equalized in injury time against Jordan and defeated Syria through Honda’s penalty kick. They eventually ousted Saudi Arabia, which already lost to Syria and Jordan. 5-0, as Okazaki scored hattrick and Ryoichi Maeda gained two goals.

In quarter finals, Japan defeated the hosts 3-2 with twenty minutes remaining – Qatar’s goals came from its naturalized players, Sebastian Soria and Fabio Cesar. Semi final was a battle royale affair against Korea, and Korea were favored based on derby’s history. Both teams scored in extra time, but something very unexpected happened – Korea could not put a single goal in penalty shootout.

Came the dream final against Australia, where the Soceroos were again favored. The scourge of Japan, Tim Cahill was there, but he had only scored two goals against India. More dangerous were Mile Jedinak and Harry Kewell, and six different players scored in the 6-0 demolition of Uzbekistan. And Cahill came that close in early second half, but his header and its wild impact failed to cross the line.

Penalty shootout loomed and Mark Schwarzer was invincible as ever, but Yuto Nagatomo, the Cesena’s short side back that was much underestimated by Western punters in the World Cup, crossed to Tadanari Lee. He scored with a volley. Australians argue that Japan have not defeated Australia in 90 minutes. The last time Japan did was in 2001, 1-0 in Confederations Cup and 3-0 in AFC v OFC match. Incidentally, as rivals, both teams have not held friendly match since 1998, despite of ease of travel between Tokyo and Sydney and the presence of expatriates in both countries.

Sadly, Lee’s heroic achievement failed to raise the profile of Korean-Japanese in Japan and Korea (Tadanari was rejected by his team mates in Korea U-20 and he dates Korean-Japanese singer Iconiq, who is also shunned in both countries as ‘too foreign’). But Japan have defeated Korea in football multiculturalism, as now its national team features a Dutch and a Korean, both are made in Japan.

Asian Cup 2011 – Report Card

Qatar – B: How did Japan and South Korea go in 1991? Promising but not there. Ditto with United States in 1983. Even judging from their performance in the previous World Cup before they became the hosts, it seemed that they could only provide the home without the piano recital and the home made dinner.

How did Qatar go in the Asian Cup was how the best it could go. A third rate Asian team relying on expensive foreign coach, naturalized Latinos and uninterested local supporters. Qataris didn’t watch their national team – they watched the FA Cup. Its result was the best it could get. With the double surprises and close call against Japan. With the brilliant play against China. The humiliating opening match against Uzbekistan. That was pure Qatar. It has been compared to more achieving Bahrain. But this time it did better, and not because it is the host.

Uzbekistan – B: Fatigue? Screw it on the big day? For some reason Uzbekistan defense was a big shame in the semi final, after impressive domination in the group stage. Actually, scratch that. The only time Nesterov kept his clean sheet was during the opening match. But its attacking quality was something, with the exception against Australia. Maybe while Geynrikh could reclaim himself against Korea, they were THAT scared when already down 0-2 against Australia. Djeparov showed his credibility, but after one goal against Kuwait, Maksim Shatsikh lost his mojo and failed to regain it.

China – D: Big disappointment. Again. That’s what you get for insisting Adidas to design your jersey polo style, because you guys love polo shirt so much. Try again, only better. Deng Zhuoxiang, however, was probably the only man who could score from free kick in the tournament. Dunno, I didn’t see any Group D match.

KuwaitF: Hopeless. Maybe the result of deranged FA leadership.

Japan A: Again and again, Asia’s leader of the pack. Since childhood I always get impression that ‘Japan’s flashier, but Korea’s better”. This holds wrong in several tournaments, sometimes because Korea did worse – World Cup 98. Confed Cup 2001. World Cup 2010 (they both did well, but Japan won twice). Came in with a celebrity team, something that didn’t happen during the last decade, they looked like blew it in game against Jordan, and also in the third quarter against Syria. Its defense looked shaky, but its impressive, Euro- (okay, maybe…euh…Mexican? African?) quality attack prevailed in the ‘we score one goal more than you’ result. And that what matters. Finally, their victory against Australia shows that the white men are not only unbeatable, but also can be made to flunk every attempt. Just like in 1905.

Syria – C: Well, they did better than Saudi. That’s something.

JordanB: The surprise of the tournament. Less assuming than Syria which still has Al-Karamah football club. Their exported players play in second class Saudi teams and in Cyprus. Their foreign coach came from Iraq. And yet they were close to humiliate Japan and did the job against Saudi.  Their only mistake was only to do it worse than Uzbekistan.

Saudi – F: It’s their fault. It’s their fault for preventing players to go overseas, while criticizing Asian moguls for investing in European clubs instead of Asian ones (or that a cue to invest in Saudi?). With players from giants Al-Hilal & Al-Ittihad, they were supposed to be scary. Maybe the loss against Syria was a fu…bad luck, like what happened to Spain in South Africa. But Peserio was axed (figuratively, hopefully) also because of his record in the World Cup qualification. Still, like Kuwait, the biggest fault lies in the FA.

Korea – A: Great result from a U20 team. Who knows, an older team could not achieve a better result. I didn’t trust Ji Dong-Won much and had preferred for K-League top scorer Yoo Byung-Soo, who never came on pitch, but he still scored four goals, more than Euro based Japanese like Honda or Kagawa. Ko Ja-Cheol could become the second MVP, had not for his inconsistency in the play offs. Hopefully this new Golden Generation hopeful will stay consistent and deadly for the Olympics and World Cup qualification.

Australia A: This team made A-League fans happy. Well, there were only 3 players came from A-League and that’s because Jason Culina had past his prime for Europe, but Robbie Kruse and Matt McKay made the fans proud. Holger Osieck has also resurrected Harry Kewell and somewhat successful in making Tim Cahill a full-fledged forward. Still, seems he’s still unsure about the quality of the youth and the subs – too often he waited too long for subs, and Tommy Oar, Neil Kilkenny, and Scott McDonald failed to have quality time on field. Champions of 2015, unless Japan made an upset.

Bahrain C: Failed to surprise although they still tried to match the big two. Just bad draw which they failed to resist. But along with Uzbekistan, Bahrain is still a strong candidate for the extra World Cup spot.

India – C: I feared that India could become like NZ in World Cup or Philippines in the Suzuki Cup. It didn’t happen since they don’t play in Europe – with the exception of team’s top scorer Sunil Chhetri who plays in Major League Soccer and keeper Subrata Paul, who was a loveable loser (well he had to pick ball from the net ten times, did he?). Keep trying AFC…keep trying in making the Indians to love football. Well China isn’t very far away in this respect…

Iran – B: Still the game. They scored perfect points in the group stage, against defending champions Iraq and pesky NK.  They booked quarter finals match against Korea, a tradition of the Asian Cup. Despite the country rep, yeah, they might have the best looking players, even compared to the rugged Australians. Well that what happened when the groomed Immortals faced the unwashed Macedonian phalanx.

Iraq – B: Yeah, Thailand-Indonesia 2007 was a one hit wonder. Still, better things could have happened. For 115 minutes they scared the Aussies, who they defeated in the previous cup. Their attack and discipline, however, was not as they used to.

North Korea – F: You guys shame Koreans. Jong Tese played in 2. Bundesliga for a reason…this South Africa surprise pack failed to score just any goal against UAE. Some suspects the pains from the torture and mines are still there. Some worse people even thought that the players were look-alikes since the real players were already executed. No, I never tired of the gulag joke. It’s a form of futile protest.

UAE – F: The wooden spoon. Even Indians know how to put in the ball. Time to seize their platinum iPad and OptiShot golf set.

Asia Football Update – Korea is Still the Best. And so does Shinji Kagawa.

When South Korea put in four teams into the quarter finals of AFC Champions League, the prospect of all-Korean final was bright. Then three teams were shot down spectacularly, and after defeating Bunyodkor and former champions Pohang Steelers and Al-Hilal, Zob Ahan have become a new favorite. It was unbeaten in the playoff round, while Seongnam suffered losses from Suwon and Al-Shabab.

And then, Seongnam returned to its persistent and aggressive play, despite without Dzenan Radoncic. Hulking Australian defender Sasa Ognenovski fought his way through a scrimmage, and international defender Cho Byung-Kuk scored from a corner. Zob Ahan fought back through Mohammad Khalatbari’s header, but substitute Kim Cheol-Ho lifted the thriller in the 83th minute.  Mauricio Molina failed to get two extra goals that would place him as the top scorer (the award goes to Jose Mota of Suwon), but Sasa got the Best Player award.  East Asia has won the cup for the fifth year in the row, and the K-League has demonstrated its superiority over the J. League, Australia’s A-League, and Chinese Super League – at least for this season.

J. League

Time is running out for Kashima Antlers to chase Nagoya. Nagoya defeated Omiya 2-1, while veteran players Koji Nakata and Mitsuo Ogasawara (remember Japan/Korea 2002?) took Kashima to victory over Kawasaki, which got the early lead through Vitor Junior. Gamba Osaka defeated Hiroshima 2-0 through Lee Keun-Ho and Lucas, while Cerezo failed to catch up with its rival after being held by Yamagata 3-3. Shimizu overcame its bad form with decisive 5-0 thumping of Shonan Bellmare. The goalscorers were all-stars cast of Shinji Ono, Frode Johnsen, Jungo Fujimoto, and Shinji Okazaki.

 

China

The 2010 season is over.  Shandong ended the last round by hammering Shanghai 5-2, with Han Peng’s hattrick is supposedly to ensure his entry into the Asian Cup starting eleven. Dubier Riascos, however, still managed to score a penalty kick to secure his goal tally against Shandong, and Shanghai is still qualify for the 2011 ACL. Despite Ryan Griffiths single goal against Jiangsu, Beijing failed to overtake Shanghai and to qualify for Asia. Tianjin and Hangzhou are also going to Asia with 1-0 wins over Henan and Qiangdao respectively.

 

Australia

Who is Kosta Barbarouses? This Greek-New Zealander guaranteed another smiling week for Brisbane as Roars defeated Melbourne Heart 2-1, despite Gerald Sibon’s early goal. Barbarouses has appeared in all All Whites team since sixteen years old and have scored six goals since his debut in the A-League.  Number two Adelaide suffered to unexpected defeat in the hand of Newcastle 1-3, with a double from Marko Jesic. A product of Cool Britain, Robbie Fowler, scored a hattrick for Perth against Melbourne Victory (which got one back through Diogo Ferreira). Newcastle will face a tough test this Wednesday against Brisbane.

 

Indonesia

Persebaya Surabaya, a former giant of Indonesian football currently in the second division, held a charity match against a team of Dutch-Indonesian semi-pros – and lost 1-2. The match was held to promote the Indonesian Premier League, an opposition league designed to challenge the official Indonesian Super League.  The Indonesian Football Association complained to AFC and FIFA about the employment of Egyptian referee during the charity match.

A growing numbers of fans have no problem with the Premier League as they believe the FA is utterly incompetent in managing the national team. Indonesia canceled friendlies against Hong Kong and Philippines due to the explosion of Merapi volcano in southern Central Java, which ash fallout reached West Java. It was not the FA’s fault, but fans have contrasted the cancellation with the IPL’s success in inviting some Dutch (which again, are mercenaries who didn’t complain much about personal safety).

Overseas

Right, Shinji Kagawa. He is going to Barcelona, isn’t he? Maybe. Certainly clubs west of Germany and south of Netherlands are interested in this young Japanese, which scored again for Dortmund. Still, pundits agree that it’s better for Kagawa to finish this season with Dortmund – taking them to win the Bundesliga, the DFB Pok…(uh, they lost to Kickers Offenbach), and the Europa League (trailing behind PSG and Sevilla). Kagawa’s good, but there’s still Grafite, Gekas, and Gomez to overcome. And there’s still Blue Samurai in Qatar, hoping to win the AFC Asian Cup.

Tim Cahill scored again in the last minute, this time against Arsenal. Unfortunately, that was Everton’s only goal.

Two more games in the Russian Premier League, and Zenit St. Petersburg have become champions. Keisuke Honda’s CSKA Moscow still have Rubin Kazan breathing on their neck. Will Honda move westward in January?

A Japanese player, Kosuke Kimura, who has lived in United States since he was 19, took Colorado Rapids to the MLS Cup final after scoring against San Jose Earthquakes.

 

Asian Games

Bye-bye for host China in the Men’s Asian Games, after going down to a reinforced South Korea. World Cup veterans Park Chu-Young, Kim Jung-Woo, and Cho Young-Cheol showed Chinese goalkeeper Wang Dalei that it was alright to be angry (why does the link still have many ‘Asians eat dog’ comments?).  Hong Kong’s great performance (draw against UAE and wins over Uzbekistan and Bangladesh) ended after Oman beat them 3-0, while Iran’s quest for the gold continues after overcoming Malaysia 3-1. Uzbekistan bounced back by defeating Qatar and will challenge South Korea in the quarter finals.