No, not the newest bizarre event to be welcomed into the Olympics, but more a debate on the make up of Japan’s Olympic football squad. Regista invited opinions from four people on said squad. The people are:
Stuart Smith – FC Gifu cheerleader
Sam Robson – J.League analyst at Football Radar
Gabriele Anello – Regista’s official Olympic coverage director
Tiago Bontempo – Brazilian journalist and J.League analyst
We asked these people two questions:
If you had the chance to replace any of the overage players in the squad, who would you replace, and who would you replace them with?
What are your expectations, if any at all, for the Japan squad in Rio?
Take it away gentlemen!
I have to admit from the start that I’m patently against the overage player principle. I find it uneasy that some players who helped teams qualify for the olympics can be jettisoned in favour of “parachute players” – those overage players that can be dropped in. BUT, if we have to answer that question, then fine.
I’m actually not that against any of the overage players, per se. They’re all decent players. Another admission, I’m a bit of a Koroki fan-boy – his laid back demeanour is something I appreciate in players. Shiotani? Again, not a bad selection and I can see a combination of him & Ueda (with Nakamura behind) being quite good. As for Fujiharu, while he’s a good player, I’d have maybe gone with a more impactful player. If you’re going to bring overage players in, make them splash ones (like Neymar for Brazil). I might have been tempted to add another striker – Yohei Toyoda is a name that springs to mind as someone different. Mu Kanazaki is a similar shout. I think the ultimate would have been Yoshito Okubo, but I doubt Kawasaki would have allowed three players to go (they’ve already granted Ryota Oshima & Riki Harakawa).
Agreeing in principle with Stuart, I feel Tsukasa Shiotani and Shinzo Koroki are solid selections, as now, in addition to Wataru Endo and Ryota Oshima in midfield, the side has a very solid spine. There’s arguments for the likes of Gen Shoji or Masato Morishige at the back, but I have no real complaints over the Hiroshima man’s selection. Similarly, with Koroki, I think he’s a decent choice, very good when it comes to manoeuvring in tight spaces to work an opening, and a deadly finisher on his day.
However, in an ideal world where more than two players for a squad could be picked, I would probably have gone with one of the in-form Kashima Antlers strikers in Mu Kanazaki or Shoma Doi. Kanazaki offers a bit more physicality, while Doi is so sharp, elusive and full of confidence. My main issue comes with Fujiharu’s inclusion. While undoubtedly a good Japanese full back, in a squad of 18 I wouldn’t have selected three full backs especially when Sei Muroya and Masashi Kamekawa can operate on both sides, while the squad has other players able to fill in if required or even change shape to a back three by dropping Endo back. I would have gone with Manabu Saito. Japan in the Toulon tournament were too slow in their build up and lacked a cutting edge to break through an opponent. Saito offers that bit of pace and a touch of class and guile, and is almost unstoppable on his day, as seen by his mazy run and finish against Avispa Fukuoka earlier this month.
I’m going to have to disagree with both Stuart & Sam. Actually, I would replace them all if I could. I know Teguramori had many limitations like European clubs and even some Japanese clubs not releasing the players, as well as not including more than two players from the same team. In an ideal scenario, I’d call Nagatomo, Yoshida and Okazaki/Muto. If only J.League players were available, they’d be Makino, Shoji and Kanazaki/Okubo. (still not sure about the striker). Also, I’d like to see Nakatani and Junya Ito in the final squad (ahead of Iwanami and Harakawa – no need for four volantes – holding midfielders – IMO).
I didn’t expect any surprises, but hearing the three over-aged players who Teguramori picked for Rio made me a little sad. Good players, but unnecessary for this squad. I think the only one that I’d bring to Rio is Shiotani, because Japan doesn’t produce good prospects in that position. Besides, it’s a reward for the Sanfrecce centre-back, who’s been playing great football since his arrival in Hiroshima.
I think Koroki and Fujiharu weren’t necessary. At left back, we have – as choices – Muroya and Ogawa of F.C. Tokyo, plus Kamekawa (in this right order). So no need for Fujiharu at all. I’d have brought only one over-aged player to Rio, but Teguramori really needed a great name to bring as a forward, I’d have preferred Yoshito Okubo. Kawasaki isn’t so available in letting him go right now? Ok, fair enough. Pick Hisato Sato: it’d have been an amazing award for his career. Plus, he knows very well how to score. In Hiroshima they have Utaka, Miyayoshi and Minagawa (yes, I said it): it would have been enough for one month.
I have some doubts even about the regular calls. The most inexplicable absence is the one of Takahiro Sekine. What a prospect. And for the 4-4-2 formation of Teguramori he would have been the star of this squad, despite the fact he’s used to playing as a wing back in the 3-5-2 of Petrovic in Saitama. Yet, his absence doesn’t make any sense to me.
I know there’s the two players from each club-rule, but Urawa has a really deep bench (still: no titles, at least for now) and Komai could have fit Sekine’s void. On another tone, I’m sorry that Nakatani (Kashiwa), Cayman Togashi (Yokohama), Ryoya Ogawa (FC Tokyo) and mostly of all Yoshihiro Nakano (Kawasaki) didn’t get a chance to Rio. Especially the last one: can you imagine two flanks in Teguramori’s 4-4-2 with Nakano and Sekine? I’d have said Japan would going for the gold in Brazil…
Regista: What about the second question – your expectations?
If everything goes right, Japan could reach the semifinal, like in London 2012, but this time I am not as optimistic since the path looks way more complicated. Japan was not lucky in the draw and got the most difficult group.
Nigeria is the best African team and they have many talents already in European clubs, while Colombia is the typical South American opponent Japan usually struggles against. Even getting through the group, there is a possibility of facing Brazil in the quarterfinals. Teguramori Japan may not have the most talented generation but at least they are a team that play with their hearts, with a never give up attitude (we call that ‘garra’ in Brazil, I don’t think there is an equivalent word in English, maybe 粘り強い in Japanese). The come-from-behind victory against South Korea in the qualifier final (the final of the Asian U23 championship) is the perfect example of that. This kind of determination is something the full national team, and the Japanese player in general, lacks.
I think Japan will do very well to get out of the group, to be honest. Like Tiago mentioned, Nigeria & Colombia will be formidable challenges, and Sweden impressed and surprised almost everyone when they won the UEFA U21 tournament last year – dispatching Italy, Denmark & Portugal along the way. Nigeria can call upon the experience of Jon Obi Mikel & exciting forward Sadiq Umar. Colombia will be good in favourable conditions…..I think if Japan make it out of the group, they will have done extremely well.
The late news of Yuya Kubo staying in Bern to fill in for a team-mate’s injury (and the probable pick of Musashi Suzuki to replace him: sigh…) left me a little down. But let’s face the reality: Japan has to do well at this Olympics. For two reasons.
The first one comes from news regarding other teams: Brazil has to win (and so they probably won’t, due to pressure on their home soil), Argentina has a weaker squad than the one we were told of in June. The group rivals – Sweden, Nigeria and Colombia – are less than threatening, especially the first two. Defending champions Mexico lack big names. So everything seems possible, at least on paper.
The second reason to be optimistic comes from the squad. Yes, Teguramori’s squad hasn’t been nice to watch, but these guys showed real character when it counted. Zero goals conceded in the qualification round before the final. All victories, even when they didn’t appear brilliant (watch the semifinal). Many of these guys play regularly on their teams: can we say about other national sides? Don’t think so.
There would be a third reason, which lies on Brazil being second-home to Japanese fans, but unfortunately we’ll play the first two games in the Amazon Forest, despite Manaus being a joke of a project. The key is concluding the Group B in first-place: we would probably avoid Brazil, and a medal-dream would be real. Even coming second in Group B would mean playing in Sao Paolo, where the Japanese community is really something. Defeating Brazil in front of their eyes would be a feat to tell about in the next 50 years.
I think repeating London isn’t a long-shot. Actually, with passing of time, it seems more and more possible than before.
I’m hopeful, if not overly optimistic. I didn’t see enough in the Toulon tournament to suggest that Japan had a chance of going deep in this competition, though admittedly certain key players were missing, or got injured during the tournament. The group at least on paper appears navigable. I’d fancy Japan’s chances against Sweden and Nigeria, though Colombia in the near unbearable heat of Manaus appears a daunting prospect. A second place finish would likely lead to a quarter final against Brazil, a host nation desperate for an Olympic title and armed with the likes of Neymar and protégé Gabriel Jesus. This, I fear, is where the journey will end for Japan.