It’s not you, darling. It’s your confederation

Japan's defense makes me despaired!

Japan’s defense makes me despaired!

The worst Confed Cup. Ever. No, not you Brazil 2013. You’re great. Neymar. Julio Cesar actually having clean sheet. Torres might claim the Golden Boot. Protests.

I’m talking about Japan’s results. Discounting King Fahd’s Continental Cup (1995, Japan were owned by Nigeria and Argentina), here are Japan’s previous results: Finalists in 2001, win over Canada, Cameroon, and Australia, draw with Brazil. 2003: win over NZ. 2005: Win over Greece (we were talking about Pirate Ship Greece, the terror of Europe), draw with Brazil (in which Ronaldinho and Robinho scored).

It’s easy to pinpoint Japan’s cause of fall down this year: Terrible defense. Still, facing re-surging Brazil at home is not easy. Italy – okay, that’s very terrible defense. And with Mexico…if Japan won that one, it’s doomsday for Javier Hernandez. He would have been remembered as another failed Mexican striker like Guillermo Franco or Carlos Vela (not in their overall career, but in representing Mexico in the shadow of Hugo Sanchez).

Actually I can see while many Brits sympathize with Japan. On international stage, Scots can sympathize with Japanese ability to depress and occasionally impress (can we have a Japanese movie with a sex scene set in January 2011? Like Mark Renton remembering Archie Gemmill?). Actually for the Scots, Japan can win something and only have their star club relegated, not under administration.

While for the English, how the media treat the Japanese national team is like England. While for the ‘mainstream’ it’s full of “England expects”, “date with destiny”, and Page 3 girls in England body paint, for the comedians it’s the self-deprecating jokes unthinkable in United States and Australia. In Japan, it’s “Ganbare Nippon!”, Kirin and Asahi commercials in every window of opportunity, and cute, innocent-like girls in Adidas jersey squealing and clapping. Again, for comedians (and expats) it’s sarcasm and despair.

Actually, June 2013 is despairing time in Asia. Because Japan, Australia, and Korea qualify. My, where would we have been had Australia defeated Japan and the Agony of Doha repeated itself. If Iraq held Australia and Oman had more wins? If Uzbekistan had scored much more goals or if Iran did so? 2014 seems bleak for the Asian qualifiers. Japan need better defense, Australia need better forwards (and a stable, mature goalkeeper. Not Brad Jones, certainly). Korea need..uh…Park Chu-young? Certainly Son Heung-min is not good as he thought he was. They need more friendlies. Even Iran worry about their goalscoring ability.

What happens in Asia is that West Asia (including Uzbekistan, if you will) are catching up with the slow-moving Northeast Asia (including Australia and excluding China). Maybe it’s the physics. Maybe it’s the pride. Maybe it’s the atmosphere, the space where Amman and Beirut are macho worlds away from Urawa, Suwon, and even surprisingly, Melbourne.

On the other hand, while the power gap inside the confederation is decreasing, that’s not the case globally. The lesson from 2010 World Cup was the world belonged to Europe and South America, but CONCACAF (United States, actually) and Asia (Japan and Korea. No, not Bizarro Korea) could eclipse Africa (except Ghana, which actually defeated USA). The African World Cup demonstrated the free fall of African football, in the age of Didier Drogba, Obafemi Martins, and Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

What’s the lessons of 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup? Well, it shows that Brazil can rise up when Nike needs them and that OFC is such likeable, whether in the form of New Zealand or Tahiti (even I did, as Steevy Chong Hue is the first ethnic Chinese to play in FIFA Confederations Cup), and Japan are Japan, even when their defenders and keeper have played regularly in the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, and the Premier League. Panicked, timid, awkward, and frustrated.

The biggest fear of Japanese fans is if Kagawa and Honda are actually not that great. Well, they are 83-81 out of 100 players, in a world where many footballers are above 85. Had not for the terrible defending, the Italy 2 Japan 3 match would have been remembered for Kagawa’s sublime volley, Okazaki’s talent as a right winger, and Balotelli’s red card out of frustration. Oh, that’s also a glaring problem. Either Japan have no functional striker since times immemorial or they needs to abandon 4-2-3-1 or its predecessor a decade ago, 4-5-1, which had made Masashi Nakayama, Masashi Oguro, Keiji Tamada, Ryoichi Maeda, and even Shinji Okazaki as unhappy as Charlie Brown. Even Australia are having the same problem. It works in Asia, but not globally.

In any case, we have witnessed that world football belong to Europe and South America and this tournament as predictable and straightforward and it can get. If Asia cannot break the domination, then the three Northeast Asian powers need to lengthen the gap with their West Asian rivals. No more defeats during trips to Oman or Jordan, and full control in home matches. The supporters have done more than enough, it’s the team who have to raise the roof.

One more thing. I don’t think anyone is happy with their confederation now. It’s all corruption, self-congratulatory, and passion for mediocrity in every confederation now. It’s certainly has done unspeakable damage for Africa and humiliated CONCACAF. It’s no surprise if Australian, Japanese, and Korean influences are kept at arm length in AFC politics. Therefore, as hard to accept it, maybe the point of supporting the Brazilian protests is to tell FIFA that it cannot live in its own corporate world (as much as I am proud of more Asian corporations featured in the stadiums, I do feel the global and continental sponsors completely kick out the local taste and business out of the picture). What Australia, Japan, and Korea can do (much better than relying on Toto and Samsung) are playing hard and playing to kill. If it’s too hard against Brazil or Italy, then do it at Qatar and Uzbekistan. Do it at each other. Because Belgium and United States won’t wait.

Drink when they're winning. Hey, is this from 2010? OK then!

Drink when they’re winning. Hey, is this from 2011? OK then!

 

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And they scored!

The sad thing was Manchester United lost. Because they were lost, nobody really remembered Park Ji-Sung equalizer. In the same night, my wish from the previous post came true – Shinji Kagawa scored two goals against Hoffenheim, and Mike Havenaar scored for Vitesse before PSV put an end to their hope of a comeback. Hajime Hosogai also helped Ausburg scoring equalizer against Kaiserslautern. The only dent was Koo and Hasebe’s inability to fight Bayern Munich.

Kagawa and Havenaar’s performance both grabbed modest attention in Japanese media on Sunday, as well as assorted sports site. Unfortunately, they play in Germany instead of England. In the rest of Southeast Asia there are raging debates every day on EPL clubs, while in Indonesia people abuse each other over Madrid v Barcelona, but no one watches Bundesliga, let alone Eredivisie.

On Sunday, however, the fortunes of the Koreans and the Japanese turned over. Nagatomo played full time in Inter’s suprise defeat to Lecce, Okazaki came in at the start of the second half but Stuttgart were badly damaged in the last ten minutes, Uchida played only for the first half and got a yellow card to boot (and Schalke was able to turn the table once he was gone), and Yoshida was helpless as RKCĀ  mistreated VVV. Ji and Chu-Young spent the whole match again on the bench. Still, credit to Kawashima for clean sheet in away victory against Westerlo.

What’s the lesson? First, at least watching Japanese and Korean attackers are much less depressing than five years ago, when you got Takahara and Ahn and Seol and Lee Dong-Gook attempting to make a break in England and Germany. No, please don’t remind me on the last day of the Japanese in Serie A (I’m not talking about Yuto. I’m talking about Ogasawara, Yanagisawa, Oguro. And Morimoto). But as expected, their defensive sides, while have secured their names in starting XI, are still shaky. Even my favorite Lee Jung-Soo lapsed in the second half and almost letting go a three goals advantage as Al Sadd registered narrow 3-2 against Al Ahli in Qatar.

 

I think that’s all about Japan and Korea. Anyway, yesterday I found two names – first is Hiroshi Ibusuki, the current top scorer of Spain’s Segunda B Group 4. He plays for Sevilla B. A former youth player for Kashiwa, he has lived in Spain for three years and scored 35 goals. How about that, scoring 35 goals in Spain before you are 21 year old. In Japan U-23, however, he is still ranked behind Yamazaki, Nagai, Osako and Usami, just to name a few.

The second name is Xavier Chen, playing for Mechelen. I was wondering how could a Taiwanese playing in the Belgian Premier League, seeing that no Taiwanese plays even in Hong Kong First Division or J.League Division 2. Turned out he’s half-Belgian, the Taiwanese football federation claimed to know him when playing FIFA 12 (talking about scouting), and said that they had to race China which was also approaching Chen. I don’t think China is one of federations which are keen to naturalize foreign-born players, but let’s just leave the story like that.

On the other hand, Indonesians are in love with Radja Nainggolan, half-Indonesian Belgian midfielder playing for Cagliari, who was linked with Juventus, which is still a popular club in Indonesia. I’m glad that he has played twice for Belgium so Indonesian football federation cannot approach him for *sigh* naturalization. FYI, in FIFA 12 Chen is rated 67 while Nainggolan’s rating is 76, making him one of the top Asian players in the game, ethnically.