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Japan to set up nationwide soccer academies

© Reuters 2002

By Alastair Himmer

TOKYO, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Seven Japanese clubs will set up soccer academies based on the French and English models in a bid to raise the standard of the game at club and national level, the J-League announced on Sunday.

Japanese champions Kashima Antlers, Jubilo Iwata, FC Tokyo, Yokohama F-Marinos, Nagoya Grampus Eight, Gamba Osaka and Sanfrecce Hiroshima will establish academies in the 2002 season, J-League Chairman Saburo Kawabuchi said.

"France are the best in the world and England has some of the best sides in football, thanks largely to their youth systems. Japan has to do the same if we want to compete on a world level," he said.

The French have a national academy at Clairefontaine, on the outskirts of Paris, while English premier league clubs such as Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal have reaped the rewards of their training centres in recent seasons. Kawabuchi confirmed that the J-League would like to see all 16 first division clubs and 12 second division clubs follow suit in the future, although he did not set a deadline.

"If Japan wants to have the same ambitions, we have to make sure that players are given the right training from a very early age," he said.

Kawabuchi acknowledged that the J-League's 10th season, which kicks off on March 2, would be unique with Japan co-hosting the first Asian World Cup with South Korea this summer.

"It is a World Cup year so all the players are hoping to get picked for Japan. But it is important that their enthusiasm does not boil over," he said, "We don't want players picking up silly injuries."

Kawabuchi confirmed that the Japanese first division could scrap the current "golden goal" format in 2003 if the J-League's experiment to abolish extra time in division two this season is successful.

The J-League has also instructed referees to clamp down on obstruction and incidents of players feigning injury this season, Kawabuchi said.

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