30 May - 10 June, 2001   Copa Confederaciones    

    Korea/Japan 2001
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Japan: if we carry on like this...

Japan's star midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata (7) and U.S. defender Frankie Hejduk struggle for the ball during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games men's soccer quarterfinals September 23, 2000.
Photo: Kimimasa Mayama, Reuters
It is not as if football has no tradition in the land of the rising sun. Yet apart from a largely unnoticed bronze medal at the Olympic Football Tournament in 1968, Japan had no international achievements of merit. An upturn in their fortunes did not come about until the formation of a national professional league, the J-League, in 1993, which culminated in Japan qualifying for the 1998 World Cup Finals in France. But it was here that Japan's biggest weakness came to the fore. The team lacked a goalscorer, a clinical finisher capable of converting the opportunities that were created in no small number. This has been a latent problem ever since the heady days of Kazu Miura in the early 1990s, a problem that has still not been fully resolved even under French coach Philippe Troussier, who has successfully managed Japan since Autumn 1998.

Shinji Ono plays soccer with four-year-old Lebanese soccer fan Amira Abboud after a training session for the Japanese national team in Beirut October 27, 2000.
Photo: Eriko Sugita, Reuters

Japan's Naohiro Takahara (L, back to camera) and Shinji Ono give each other a high five as the team members congratulate each other upon defeating Iraq in their Asian Cup quarterfinal match.
Photo: Eriko Sugita, Reuters

Troussier has, however, been able to imbue the Japanese national side with the self-confidence they had lacked for many years and which is now bringing them a wave of success. Blessed with excellent technical ability and rich supply of talent, Japan have made people sit up and take notice on several occasions in the last two years. First, they made it all the way to the final of the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship in Nigeria, only to lose out to Spain. Then, the Olympic football tournament appeared to be going the way of Japan, until they conceded an equaliser against the Americans in the very last minute of the quarter-final, and Nakata's miss in the penalty shoot-out meant they had to take an unexpected early flight home.

The regulars from these two tournaments then went on to form the majority of Japan's "A" team that in the Lebanon won the Asian Cup for the second time one month after the Olympics, having previously won it in 1992. In addition to AS Rome's Hidetoshi Nakata, the undisputed star in the team, the squad is brimming with talent. Naohiro Takahara, a virtually unstoppable striker, is not yet 22, and captain Ryuzo Morioka, at 25, is almost one of the old guard. Another superb player is the 27-year-old midfielder Hiroshi Nanami, who returned to Japan after a disappointing season at Italian club Venezia that ended in relegation, and was elected Player of the Tournament in the Lebanon. For Philippe Troussier and Japan, acclaimed by the AFC publication Sport Asia as "arguably the finest [team] the continent has ever boasted", last year was just one leg on their journey to the top. The FIFA Confederations Cup could be the next.

Pos   Popular Name   Shirt Name Club D.O.B.
[ 1]   GK   KAWAGUCHI Yoshikatsu   KAWAGUCHI   Yokohama Marinos 15-Aug-75
[ 2]   DF   UEMURA Kenichi   UEMARA   Sanfrecce Hiroshima 22-Apr-74
[ 3]   DF   MATSUDA Naoki   MATSUDA   Yokohama Marinos 14-Mar-77
[ 4]   DF   MORIOKA Ryuzo   MORIOKA   Shimizu S-Pulse 07-Oct-75
[ 5]   MF   INAMOTO Junichi   INAMOTO   Gamba Osaka 18-Sep-79
[ 6]   DF   HATTORI Toshihiro   HATTORI   Jubilo Iwata 23-Sep-73
[ 7]   MF   NAKATA Hidetoshi   NAKATA   AS Rome (ITA) 22-Jan-77
[ 8]   MF   MORISHIMA Hiroaki   MORISHIMA   Cerezo Osaka 30-Apr-72
[ 9]   FW   NISHIZAWA Akinori   NISHIZAWA   Espanyol Barcelona (ESP) 18-Jun-76
[10]   MF   MIURA Atsuhiro   MIURA   Tokyo Verdy 1969 24-Jul-74
[11]   FW   NAKAYAMA Masashi   NAKAYAMA   Jubilo Iwata 23-Sep-67
[12]   GK   NARAZAKI Seigo   NARAZAKI   Nagoya Grampus Eight 15-Apr-76
[13]   FW   YAMASHITA Yoshiteru   YAMASHITA   Avispa Fukuoka 21-Nov-77
[14]   MF   ITO Teruyoshi   ITO   Shimizu S-Pulse 31-Aug-74
[15]   MF   FUJITA Toshiya   FUJITA   Jubilo Iwata 04-Oct-71
[16]   DF   NAKATA Koji   K. NAKATA   Kashima Antlers 09-Jul-79
[17]   MF   MYOJIN Tomokazu   MYOJIN   Kashiwa Reysol 24-Jan-78
[18]   MF   TODA Kazuyuki   TODA   Shimizu S-Pulse 30-Dec-77
[19]   FW   KUBO Tatsuhiko   KUBO   Sanfrecce Hiroshima 18-Jun-76
[20]   DF   HATO Yasuhiro   HATO   Yokohama Marinos 04-May-76
[21]   MF   ONO Shinji   ONO   Urawa Reds 27-Sep-79
[22]   FW   SUZUKI Takayuki   SUZUKI   Kashima Antlers 05-Jun-76
[23]   GK   TSUZUKI Ryota   TSUZUKI   Gamba Osaka 18-Apr-78

 x-Japan 3 2 1 0 5:0 7
 x-Brazil 3 1 2 0 2:0 5
 Cameroon 3 1 0 2 2:4 3
 Canada 3 0 1 2 0:5 1
31-05-01   [4] Niigata, Japan 19:30 Japan vs. Canada 3:0 (0:0) MICALLEF Simon, AUS
02-06-01   [8] Niigata, Japan 19:30 Cameroon vs. Japan 0:2 (0:1) ARCHUNDIA Benito A., MEX
04-06-01   [11] Ibaraki, Japan 19:30 Brazil vs. Japan 0:0 NIELSEN Kim Milton, DEN

07-06-01   [13] Yokohama, Japan 17:00 Japan vs. Australia 1:0 (1:0) ARCHUNDIA Benito, MEX
10-06-01   [16] Yokohama, Japan 19:00 Japan vs. France 0:1 (0:1) BUJSAIM Ali, UAE

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