The Sun is Rising.
Until the middle of this decade, Nagoya is seen as a mediocre team in the J. League, like the city itself is put behind Tokyo & the Kansai Triangle (Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe). If a team can make the big break in J. League, that’d be Shimizu S-Pulse. But Nagoya Grampus have won the 2010 J. League Division 1 league last Saturday after downing already-relegated Shonan Bellmare 1-0 (Tamada). Gamba Osaka also made it to the Champions League, again at the expense of Bellmare (2-1, Hashimoto and Sasaki). The other strong candidate for the Champions League tickets is Kashima Antlers, but a mistake this weekend could see Cerezo Osaka or Shimizu to slip forward.
As for the national team, it’s sunny in Japan (well not many things are looking good in Japan for the moment). The U-23 national teams shine in the Asian Games in Guangzhou. Both were unbeatable and the women team kept a clean sheet throughout the tournament. Nadeshiko Japan Junior defeated Thailand, China, and North Korea, while the boys left Malaysia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Iran, and UAE knocked down.
The good thing is, the male team has broken the pattern of collective, star-less team. Forward Kensuke Nagai from Fukuoka University has become the event’s top scorer with five goals. So there is one name that Zaccheroni can ponder besides Shinji Okazaki, Keiji Tamada, Shoki Hirai, and Takayuki Morimoto to become Japan’s forwards in Qatar 2011 (with Keisuke Honda & Shinji Kagawa behind them). As for the women’s team, the classic pattern emerges. Their best goalscorer is Shinobu Ohno with 2 goals, and in total only four girls scored, compared with the eight boys.
Korea – Good, but not best
After North Korea being an arse again this week, I’ve decided to omitting its existence. Yes, Chong Te-Se is a living man playing in 2nd Division of Bundesliga, and NK is a team that takes part in Asian Games and the Asian Cup. But it kinda insulting to refer them as ‘North Korea’ (which NK takes as insulting – its proper name is ‘Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’. No substitution). Korea is cool country, and it kinda sad to think that it’s northern part is…the worst. So like many other people, I’ll just call South Korea as Korea. Because the other half doesn’t matter at all.
Anyway, Korean national teams have repeated the same pattern – coming with a strong squad and yet still fail to take the gold. The girls brought in phenomenon Ji So-Yun. Yet she failed to score in a fateful semi-final against NK, before back to form in Bronze Medal match against China (damn, Chinese football is really going down). The boys took in senior team’s ace Park Chu-Young and developing star Cho Young-Cheol, who did well in the J. League. Still, they lost to NK again and then, surprisingly, to UAE. The tragedy was set to continue in the Third Place Match against Iran, when Korea played badly for 75 minutes. Then miracle struck. Park Chu-Young’s goal was followed by quick one two by Ji Dong-Won, a rookie at Chunnam Dragons.
This is a warning for Qatar 2011: Korea can bring in a solid team compared to Japan and yet still flunked at the easiest match, while can fight to the last minute against a strong rival. Get ready for a close disappointment.
Still, the K-League can proudly say it is the best league in Asia, with Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma win the Club of the Year award from AFC, and its defender, Australian Sasa Ognenovski, becoming AFC Player of the Year. I was going to say that Tim Cahill is always a more deserving Australian to get the award, but well, he flunked in South Africa and Everton is low position in the Premier League, despite of his late goals. Josh Kennedy is yet to prove his form in the continent. In this year’s ACL, only Saudi and Iranian player can truly orchestrate their teams’ attack, while again the topscorers of the Eastern Team are non-Asians. So maybe Sasa does deserve the award.