Monday, July 18, 2011

Asian Football Feast launches new website

After many months of hard work Asian Football Feast today launched our brand new website!

You can check it out at

From now on AFF will be using the new website to update you on the latest news from across Asia. Please change any bookmarks you may have to the new site.

We look forward to continuing to give you the latest news from across Asia.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Supporters' pride dashed by baffling J. League decision

By Daisuke Matsuura

The offending banner
The game against Albirex Niigata on Saturday 16th July is the first game for some S-Pulse supporters, including myself, to start their three game ban from S-Pulse games.

Though the first announcement about a punishment had been made in late June through the official website, S-Pulse finally reached their final decision to ban supporters,  who got involved in the derby incident in May, from three consecutive games which include two home games (16th and 27th July) and one away game (23rd July).

On May 28th, Shimizu S-Pulse and Jubilo Iwata were meeting at Nihondaira Stadium for their clash, their 44th overall, and their first derby of the 2011 season. It was about 40 minutes prior to kick-off when the stadium broke into furious booing from Shimizu supporters towards Iwata supporters.

"To Ghotbi, stop producing nuclear weapons"

That's what it said on a banner hung in front of Progresso, a leading supporter group of Jubilo Iwata. A handful of S-Pulse supporters quickly reacted to the insulting banner against S-Pulse coach, Iranian Afshin Ghotbi, rushing towards the other end and running into the centre of Iwata supporters to ask them to give up and hand over the banner.

The banner was eventually collected by stadium security staff (not by Shimizu supporters) and the two genius Iwata supporters were banned right away from the stadium on that day.

That's brief summary of what happened before kick-off. The game started and carried on without delay.

The next day Jubilo Iwata officially apologised on their official website along with announcing the indefinite banning of the two supporters. Progresso also announced their own ban, since the two men were Progresso members.

After these two announcements from Iwata, it seemed that everything was over, although there were still voices which demanding heavier punishment for Iwata. However, a few weeks after the derby, no Shimizu fans could imagine what was going on between J. League and S-Pulse officials behind closed doors.

On June 30th, as mentioned in opening paragraph, S-Pulse released the following announcement on their website:

1. S-Pulse to pay fine 2,000,000 JPY, while there was no fine for Iwata.
2. S-Pulse to ban supporters who crossed the barrier to enter the Iwata fans sectrion for three games scheduled in July.

There were actually some rumors amongst the core members of Shimizu supporter groups that some might be banned for rushing into Iwata supporters' area. Some of us were ready to accept banishment from a few home games.

But a 2,000,000 JPY fine on our club was a totally unexpected decision by J. League, and what we couldn't understand was that Iwata weren't handed a fine.

On 2nd July before the game against Kashima, I was asked to come to a stadium office and sit at a table with S-Pulse club officials.

At this brief meeting, I officially received a notification of banishment from the club. I knew what would be coming out of his mouth, so it did not surprise me at all. I even knew what would happen to me from the moment I rushed towards the other end of the stadium on the derby day. 

But I have no regrets whatsoever. I did that for our coach Ghotbi and for our pride. All S-Pulse staff knew what made us run towards Iwata supporters. An S-Pulse staff member told me that it took three full weeks to reach final agreement with J. League because they tried to protect us while J-League just focused on the result of what we had done.

There are still many supporters, not only those who are punished by this decision but also those who are not, feeling that this banishment doesn't sit right with them. This decision has created tension between club officials and supporters at the beginning, and it still remains unsolved. But at least I can accept it now.

But there were many things I was dying to know and I was given a chance to ask. Among many questions I've asked, the one I really wanted to find out was why was Shimizu fined, but not Iwata. Here is what I was told:

1. Fine of 2,000,000 JPY on Shimizu S-Pulse is for failing to control stadium security under authority as match host;
2. No penalty on Iwata because J. League officials deemed that the banner was not racist.

According to this S-Pulse staff member, S-Pulse must be responsible for everything that happens  inside and outside the stadium on their home match day as the host team. Even if the trouble is caused by the away team supporters, like it was this time, S-Pulse will be the ones to accept responsibility.

He added that it was clearly stated under J. League rules, so there is no room for us to argue with J. League. They (S-Pulse) actually tried to convince J. League that responsibility should have been split  with Iwata, but J. League didn't accept this saying that they had found that the banner not racially motivated, thus there was no fault on Iwata side.

It made me totally speechless. I believed and was totally sure that their banner would bring huge problems for them because it was a self-explanatory message written on the banner. But if J. League say it's not a problem, what did we fight for?

J. League must explain to all of their fans and supporters how they have reached a decision that this banner was not racially motivated. If you step outside of Japan, you will be instantly banned or even arrested if you put up such a banner in any football stadium. That's how the football world sees racial abuse or any racially motivated action.  The J. League surely have drawn a wrong line between good and bad.

I can't help myself thinking like this now - what if we put up a similar banner or exactly the same banner with a different name of a player, a coach, or whoever from Iwata at the upcoming second derby in September. Who would be punished then?

After what I've heard, it would be Iwata if Iwata supporters take any action to try to stop us. If they decide to stay, doing nothing (maybe just booing), what would happen then? Yes, we can just keep hanging our insulting banner for the entire 90 minutes at their home stadium.

Don't get me wrong, I have no intention to do what they have done. But it is true that if there is a club you hate and if you are dying to see them sweat, you already know the best and the easiest way to achieve that. But do you really want to see football played in a stadium with such an atmosphere?

Of course I trust all supporters from all J. League clubs. They must be smart enough to judge what is good and what is bad. However, you never know when the same incident may happen again in some stadium by some foolish supporters.

Who is to blame then? That is to say, J. League have made it easy for such foolish away supporters to get everything their own way. Confronting such wicked away supporters, how can we protect our beloved club as home supporters? How can we fight for our beloved players, a coach, and family in the same shirt?

So let me say it again, J. League have drawn a wrong line. I will continue asking J. League through S-Pulse club officials.


Friday, July 15, 2011

NEW Asian Football Feast is coming!

The brand new Asian Football Feast website will officially launch on Monday 18 July.

After many months of hard work and thanks to the contributions of many, the new website is finally completed and ready to be launched.

The new website will be a comprehensive, one-stop shop for your Asian football needs. League profiles, club profiles, results, tables and fixtures are just some of the new features of the new website.

Asian Football Feast prides itself on bringing you the best of Asian Football from right across the continent and we now have contributors from Australia, Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, India and Hong Kong.

We are always looking for more contributors, so if you have a knowledge and passion for Asian football then we want you to write for us. Simply email with your details and the area of Asia you wish to cover and we will get in contact with you as soon as possible.

We will launch the site on Monday and give you the details you need to check out the new site here, on Facebook and on twitter.

To commemorate the launch of the new site, we will have a series of guest columns from some of Asian footballs best writers!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

J2 throws up a few surprises

By Ben Maxwell

JEF United Chiba top the table
While unfancied Kashiwa and Sendai have been getting all the plaudits for their stellar starts to the J1 season, there have also been plenty of surprises in J2, where several of the newer, lower profile clubs have proven through the first 15 games of the season they will be serious contenders for promotion to the top flight.

This is my first season paying much attention to the second division (full disclosure, I’m an FC Tokyo fan, we were relegated for the first time at the end of 2010) but what I’ve been struck by through the first 15 matchdays is the unpredictability of the league. As a fan of English football too, the best comparison I can make is with the Championship, which many fans find more entertaining results-wise and in terms of the even-ness of the league than the Premier League.

So, firstly, a little background on the second tier of the J.League for the uninitiated: J2 consists of 20 clubs, with a fairly rapid expansion having taken place in the past six years. The league has grown from 12 to 20 teams since the end of 2005, with Kitakyushu (2010) and Tottori (2011) the most recent additions.

The 20 current clubs can be sorted into four rough groups:

Fallen Giants: Chiba, FC Tokyo, Tokyo Verdy, and Oita were all well-established top-flight sides for most of the 2000s. Verdy and Chiba, in fact, were original J.Leaguers, and Verdy were undoubtedly the league’s first super club before falling on hard times in 2005, when they suffered their first ever relegation.

Yo-Yos: This group features Kyoto, Sapporo, Yokohama FC, and Shonan, who have all spent time in both tiers, with their stays in J1 generally short. This designation is perhaps a little harsh on Kyoto, who have spent 11 of their 16 J.League seasons in the top division.

The J2 Lifers: These are the teams who joined J2 the year it was formed (1999) or thereabouts, and have never been promoted. Tosu and Mito have this group all to themselves, having spent their entire J.League lives (since ’99 & 2000, respectively) in the second tier.

The Newbies: Half the league qualify here, an indication of the rapid expansion I spoke of earlier. Kitakyushu and Tottori are givens, obviously, but the other new teams are Tochigi SC, Toyama and Okayama (entered in 2009), Kumamoto and FC Gifu (2008), and also Ehime FC (2006). Kusatsu and Tokushima (2005) can be placed here too. All of these teams have never been promoted.

Tokushima Vortis have surprised many this year
Pleasingly, for the development and competitiveness of the league, five of “The Newbies” occupy positions in the top half of the table after Matchday 15. Tokushima and Tochigi, in fact, sit in the promotion places, second and third respectively, and have made great strides in 2011 after finishing eighth and tenth in 2010.

Tokushima have been on a tear, winning their last four, and are one of only two teams to defeat leaders Chiba. They’ve used a balanced attack paced by wingers Yusuke Shimada and Yoichiro Kakitani, and featuring dual targets Tomohiro Tsuda (16 goals in 2010) and Douglas. The two big blots on their copybook are a 4-0 home battering at the hands of Tochigi and a 1-0 loss at FC Tokyo, but the Shikoku club are sure to be there or thereabouts come December. The way they dismantled mid-table Kusatsu 3-0 on Saturday was a warning for the rest of the league, with Tsuda netting for the second straight game.

Tochigi have slipped from the summit after draws in their last two, (1-1s at home to Sapporo then away at Kyoto last weekend) but have gone eight games unbeaten and look set for a long stint in the promotion hunt. They also feature a 16-goal hitman from ’10, and Ricardo Lobo has carried on where he left off last season, bagging six so far including both Tochigi goals in a highly entertaining (and encouraging) 2-2 draw away at Chiba in Matchday 12.

Chiba are setting the pace, have been in the top two all year, and look determined to make amends for the disappointment of 2010, when they entered their first season ever in J2 as massive favourites for promotion but stuttered in the second half of the campaign and finished fourth.

They addressed things in the biggest (tallest!) way possible by signing 204cm Norwegian striker Tor Hogne Aaroy, the tallest outfield player in world football, to spearhead their attack with support from fleet-footed forwards Masaki Fukai and Koki Yonekura. Aaroy started out with a bang, netting in the season opening win over Kitakyushu and then bagging a brace as Chiba laid down a marker by thumping fellow “Fallen Giant” FC Tokyo 3-0 in Matchday 2 (the first game back after the six week suspension of play after the earthquake and tsunami).

In the games that followed, as teams naturally focused on how to stop Aaroy, the wee man Fukai has taken full advantage of his extra freedom and used his pace and predatory skills to full effect, his nine goals has him top of the scoring charts and he’s netted in three straight games on two occasions already. They were held to a 1-1 draw by 10-man Kumamoto on Saturday, but are six games unbeaten.

FC Tokyo were overwhelming favourites for promotion this season after they kept largely the same squad together following their stunning relegation at the end of 2010 (see my piece in J Soccer Magazine for more on that). That meant Japan internationals Yasuyuki Konno, Naohiro Ishikawa, Shuichi Gonda and others stuck around to try and make amends and get the capital club back into the top flight at the first attempt.

FC Tokyo face a battle
to earn promotion back to J1
The early loss to Chiba seemed to shake Tokyo’s confidence, and after two scoreless draws followed, with opponents adopting the same defensive tactics that The Gasmen found so difficult to break down last season, their home support grew restless as expectations were clearly not being met.

Results began to improve with a 4-1 away win over Kyoto in Matchday 8, which also marked the emergence of young midfielder Sotan Tanabe, who netted twice, and then from Matchday 10 Tokyo won five on the spin to climb to third, with that winning run finally halted in a 0-0 draw at Oita this past weekend.

The three other “Newbies” in the top half are Kumamoto (5th), Kitakyushu (7th) and Ehime (10th), and while Kumamoto have improved after finishing seventh last year, the big story amongst those three is Kitakyushu, who have won their last four and defied expectations after a horrid first season in 2010, in which they won only one of their 36 games, scoring just 20 goals. The reason for their improved results is clearly their improved defence: they’ve kept clean sheets in eight of 15 games this year, including in their 1-0 away win over Tottori on Sunday, after managing just five all of last season.

Sitting just above Kitakyushu are Tokyo Verdy, the league’s hottest team. The Greens are top of the form table after a remarkable turnaround that has seen them win five straight, leaping from 16th to 6th with 18 goals scored and just four allowed in that time. Their most recent victims were bottom club FC Gifu, who were battered 3-0.

Elsewhere the other “Fallen Giants” and “Yo-Yos” have mostly struggled, although Sapporo have crept into the top half (9th) thanks to a five game unbeaten run. Kyoto, who were relegated along with FC Tokyo and Shonan at the end of 2010, are the worst off of this bunch and are mired down in 18th, while Oita are doing only marginally better and sit in 14th.

Shonan made a hot start, losing only one of their first nine, but suffered through a horror patch in June and into early July, when they lost five straight, and have completely fallen off the pace, slipping from second all the way down to 13th.

Yokohama FC have been huge disappointments for me, after I tipped them for promotion, and The Sky Blues lie just one place above Kyoto, although their Brazilian striker Kaio has run into some form, netting in four of the last six, including the winner in their 1-0 win over “Lifers” Mito last Saturday.

So, as we approach the halfway mark of the 38 game season, the main interest lies in whether the newcomers and recent additions to the league can sustain their challenges through the long, hot days of summer. Indications so far are that they will, but with three Fallen Giants in the top six, it shapes as a hugely entertaining battle for promotion.

You can read more about J2 and FC Tokyo on Ben's "On The Gas" blog and by following him on twitter @OnTheGas1999   


Youth crisis facing Hong Kong

By Yick Hong Lam - AFF Hong Kong correspondent

Xavier Chen scored a debut goal against Malaysia
After so many years, the atmosphere surrounding football in Taiwan is rising for the first time. 

The national team has drawn more public support, President Ma Ying-jeou published a public encouragement to the national team before World Cup qualifying, with the second-leg home game against Malaysia attracting 15,335 on 3rd July 2011.

Even the result of the matches is positive. After being defeated 1-2 in the first round. The hard fighting Taiwan national team earned a 3-2 win against an opponent that used to be too strong for them to handle, a result has even impressed the football fans in Hong Kong.

There is so much to tell in the football history between Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Hong Kong have a proud football history, especially in the 1950s to 70s. The league standard was pretty high at the time. The best Hong Kong player of his generation, Cheung Chi-Doy, joined the England first division side Blackpool in 1960, and become the first ever Asian player to play in European professional leagues.

However, the Hong Kong national team have no great history.

Due to the historical and political reasons, many of the top rank football stars, who were born and grew up in the city, chose to represent Chinese Taipei (i.e. Taiwan national team) in the 60s, including Cheung Chi-Doy and many others.

Chinese Taipei were a notable force in Asia at the time, once finishing third a Asian Cup and even becoming two times champions at the Asian games. Before the agreement for the Taiwan national team to stop calling-up Hong Kong citizens to play for Chinese Taipei in 1971, Hong Kong football had arguably given its glory at international level to Taiwan for free.

In the 1980s the quality of football in Hong Kong dropped dramatically. Despite a short revival during late 80s to early 90s, everything has gone downhill again ever since.

Without the Hong Kong imports, the football desert Taiwan could not repeat the international level success they once had.

But now, Taiwan seems to be ready to go up again.

There are two outstanding players in the current Taiwan national team squad. Arguably the biggest name is Xavier Chen.

The Belgian-born Taiwanese has been an established player in Belgium first division for years, playing with local powerhouse club R.S.C. Anderlecht and also the Belgium national U19 side.

Chen has only recently given the nod to Taiwan as he had originally hoped for a call-up from Belgium national team. He had his Taiwan national team debut in the WCQ against Malaysia in the second leg and scored a goal on debut.

Local boy Chen Po-Liang has also demonstrated his ability to the Hong Kong fans last season. Having always been the only attacking threat in Taiwan national team, as a foreign player he may not be among the top players in Hong Kong first division, but he showed quality that not many Hong Kong players in the same position can match.

And if you consider his age, he is probably better than all of the Hong Kong players of the same generation.

Apart from the two professional players, Victor Chou, who was born in Spain and currently a youth player in Segunda División B side UD Salamanca, who sat on the bench in the two World Cup qualifying matches, has strong potential to become the third professional player in the Taiwan national team.

Whilst they are rare cases at the moment, they are also starting a trend for Taiwanese players.

Of course we cannot have any hopes of finding our own Xavier Chen, but how come the so called "Football Desert" of Taiwan can have a Chen Po-Liang and we can't?

The Hong Kong Sports Institute
The quality of Hong Kong football has been dropping dramatically since 2000. The exclusion of football as a "Focus Sport" at the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI, named Jubilee Sports Centre in the past), regardless of the popularity of the sport in the city, has always been regarded as the biggest factor.

Ex-South China star Yau Kin-Wai, who was also one of the notable HKSI graduates in early 90s, expressed his view in recent interview.

In his opinion, the reason the HKSI graduates were absolutely better was because they had four private football pitches to practice. They don't need to share it with the public. They can carry out intensive training plans at their young age. They could also do additional practice if any of them wanted.

Now the youth training at clubs level cannot provide the same facilities or environment as HKSI did in the past. South China youth coach and Hong Kong football legend Wong Man-wai has shared the same opinions, but also being critical on the attitude of the youth players.

Deceased legendary youth coach Lai Sun-Chuen had also pointed out in past interviews about the quality of the youth coaches in Hong Kong and also the responsibilities on youth training on clubs.

Now we don't have HKSI to train up good young players, what have the clubs have been doing since 2000?

If clubs and HKFA both cannot provide long term and well planned youth training, without a professional youth training, even if we have a professional leagues, is it a big surprise our players standard are being caught by players trained in an amateur environment? Our youth training is of an amateur status anyway.

There are so many aspects we need to improve, including:

- a better managed league;
- players with better attitude/determination or brings in better foreign players.

The Phoenix Project will focus on forming a new league structure, a better organised league and calls for more investment and capital from the clubs. In another words, a more professional league.

However, if we take the J. League as an example, apart from the investment in marketing or bringing top quality foreign players, the JFA and the clubs have never taken the focus away from youth development.

And whilst the foreign players in the J. League aren't of the stature they once were when the league was launched, the standard of the local players has never dropped.

If Hong Kong don't improve the structures and facilities for the training of youth players, is it really an unreasonable fear that the Taiwan National Team will surpass us one day?

And this time, without any import players from us.


India play out draw against Maldives

Sunil Chhetri scored India's only goal
By Arunava Chaudhuri - AFF Indian correspondent

India were held to a one-all draw by neighbours the Maldives in an international friendly match at the National Stadium in Male yesterday. India went ahead through Sunil Chhetri, while Mukhthaar Naseer restored parity for Maldives before the break.

After the game interim coach Armando Colaco said, "It was a tough match. We did create our chances and I'm happy with the performance of the boys."

"The World Cup Qualifier against UAE stays our priority. There’s always a bit of experimentation in Friendlies and we tried to make most use of it," Armando added who did not make any substitutions.

After early chances on both sides India took the lead in the 18th minute through a Sunil Chhetri header off a Steven Dias corner. Thereafter India put pressure on their rivals with the Indian midfield in control with Jeje and Chhetri a constant threat. Jeje's missed a golden opportunity in the 43rd minute when he was send free by Chhetri but his shot hit the post. Only a minute later the Maldives equalised in the 44th minute when Mukhthaar Naseer curled in a nice shot past Subrata Pal.

After the break it was mainly the Maldives as the islanders put pressure on their bigger rivals, but India did have their chances with Jeje having the best. It stated one-all in the end.

India were the better side in the first half, while the Maldives had more of the game after the break and the final result is a fair account of the match.

India now travel to Doha to face Qatar on July 17 at the Al Sadd Stadium to continue their preparations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup - Asian Round 2 qualifier against the United Arab Emirates on July 23 & 28.


Subrata Pal; Samir Naik, Gouramangi Moirangthem Singh, Raju Eknath Gaekwad, Debabrata Roy; Steven Benedic Dias, Climax Lawrence, Mehtab Hussain, Syed Rahim Nabi; Jeje Lalpekhlua, Sunil Chhetri


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fowler looking forward to Thai challenge

By Kitinan Sanguansak - AFF Thai correspondent
Fowler at is first training session
as a Muang Thong United player
Former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler is looking forward to a new challenge after completing his shock move to Thailand Premier League champions Muang Thong United.
The 36-year-old dubbed the “God” by the Kop for his scoring exploits during his eight-year stay with the Merseyside club joined Muang Thong on a one-year contract with an option for an extension, with the club saying they spent around Bt20 millions for his services.
Fowler, who also won 26 caps and scored seven goals for England, was officially unveiled as Muang Thong’s marquee signing yesterday in a media room crammed by a big group of reporters at the the club’s home ground, Yamaha Stadium.
Even though the Englishman still has to wait for his first appearance for his new employers, with the second leg of the country’s top-flight league to resume at the end of this month, the club’s new recruit has already caused "Fowler Fever", with dozens of fans, several of them sporting shirts with his name, clamouring for his autograph outside the room.
Fowler greeted the local media, saying “Sawasdee Krub” which drew a big applaud before stating that he was happy to join the club which was as successful as Muang Thong, who have won successive league titles in the past two seasons.
“I want to say “big thank” to everyone involved in bringing me to the club. They have been a very successful club over the past few years. I hope it will continue after this.
“I’m looking forward to work with (Muang Thong coach Henrique) Calisto. It’s great challenge for me. I can’t wait to get back to the pitch and show you that I’m still good on the field,” said Fowler.
Fowler, who also played for Blackburn Rovers and Leeds United in England, dismissed a suggestion that playing in TPL was a step backward of his career.
“I think it’s unjust (to say the TPL standard is low). The league has progressed well over past few years and the teams got better. The professionalism of Muang Thong is fantastic.
“I’ve played for a few clubs and I think Muang Thong’s professionalism is unbelievable. I’m really impressed with that. Hopefully, with me now in the team, it gonna be better.”
Asked whether he was concerned with the humid conditions, Fowler believed he would have no problem in adjusting himself to the weather.
“Yeah, the weather is hot. I did play in Australia and I think the conditions were similar. It’s difficult to say whether you can adapt to the new conditions until you get there. But, I don’t see it as a problem.
“As a player, you should be able to adapt to wherever you play. I’m looking to play my football regardless of the weather.”
Having already had his first training with the new teammates, Fowler appeared relaxed on the adaptation to the team.
“It’s not totally difficult when you come to the new team. You come to know the lads with different names. I’ve changed clubs over past few years. I know it would take time to adapt to the certain things.
“But, I’m sure it would be fine. It’s good experience to train with them on the pitch and I’ll kick it on from that”
While admitting that scoring was what he loved to do, Fowler insisted the team would come first when asked whether he wanted to become the top scorer in the league, with the current leader on the scoring chart on 12 goals.
“It’s obviously good when you score the goals but as long as the team is successful. For me, the most important is the placing of the team in the table come the end of the season.” 

Japanese youngsters shine in Mexico

By Nobuyuki Tosey

Naoki Kawaguchi and Hiroki Akino
battle with Brazil's Adryan (Getty Images)
As the final whistle blew, many of the defeated Japanese players broke into tears. Consoled by the victorious Brazilian coaches and players, the two teams left the pitch to the applause of the fantastic Mexican crowd; a wonderful illustration of just how much Japan had impressed at this tournament.

Japan's World Cup had ended in the midst of the most unlikely of comebacks and that they had almost managed to pull it off made it all the more agonising. But what better indication of how far Japan had come, than the loss to Brazil in the quarter finals of the World Cup being met with such disappointment.

And they have come far. One win in six in the lead up to the tournament suggested that qualification from a group consisting of France, Argentina and Jamaica was unlikely. But not only did they qualify, they won the group; beating Jamaica and Argentina and arguably deserving a win in a draw against France, before a faultless 6-0 win over New Zealand in the last 16.

Japan had earned plaudits for not only their results, but the tactically mature manner of their performances. Coach Hirofumi Yoshitake had organised his team to focus on possession and collective effort all over the pitch, switching between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-1-3-1 formation to achieve this. An average of 60% possession, 11 goals scored and 2 conceded across 4 games meant that Japan would enter their quarter final with confidence riding high throughout the squad.

Furthermore, unlike many other countries where the tournament was going unnoticed, the performance of this U17 team was making news here in Japan and for a country still so in awe of Brazil's football heritage, a win against them at any level would be seen as a significant step in Japan's ever-growing football reputation.

Hirofumi Yoshitake
Coach Yoshitake had a hard job in balancing the confidence in his side and being wary of the threat of Brazil. But he was clever with his tactics: bold with the use of 4-1-3-1-1 formation that produced six goals against New Zealand, but conservative with his personnel; as he deployed the defensive minded Kida in the middle of the attacking midfield three and left the offensive minded Matsumoto on the bench.

But with so much of Japan's success this tournament stemming from their possession game, Japanese hearts sank upon seeing the state of the pitch. The heavy rain - that had already led to a game being abandoned this World Cup - had taken its toll and despite the attempts from the Japanese to stick to their passing game, it was clear from early on that the conditions wouldn't allow it.

As I have mentioned in my previous article, these tournaments are all about broadening these young players' footballing education and for the Japanese, their encounter with Brazil would prove to be a ruthless demonstration of the increased level of opposition that comes with the transition from youth to professional football.

In Adryan and Ademilson Brazil possess two scintillating talents; along with Germany's Samed Yesil and Ivory Coast's Souleymane Coulibaly they have been the most exciting players at the tournament and the pair would ultimately prove to be the architects of Japan's defeat.

After a scrappy start it wasn't long before Brazil got the opening goal. Adryan showcased his ability from set pieces with a perfect corner for Leo to head past Nakamura. The level of defensive organisation we had to come to expect from Japan was non-existent and the young team were perhaps slightly overawed by the occasion.

With a 1-0 lead, Brazil were happy to sit back and hit on the counter. Japan had experienced a similar scenario before; as France adopted a similar tactic having gone ahead in their group game. Although Japan were able to open them up with prolonged spells of possession on that occasion, this time the insistence to stick to their passing game was admirable yet naïve given the conditions and Japan struggled to create much before the interval.

It wasn't long after half time that Brazil struck again through a moment of sheer quality. Guilherme burst down the left wing, whipped an early ball into the box and despite Iwanami doing his best, the ball couldn't be cut out. Ademilson then showed exactly why he is deserving of his burgeoning reputation, as in one fluid movement he cushioned the ball and hit a precise shot in the far bottom corner with his left foot.

Japan found themselves two goals down for the first time this tournament. Desperation began to creep into their game and with it the assurance and discipline we had come to come expect began to disappear. Long and hopeful balls became the means of attack and previously reliant figures such as the captain Iwanami were making errors that Japan were lucky not to concede from.

Japan needed a moment of inspiration and Ishige almost provided it. Collecting the ball on the edge of the area, Japan's top scorer cut in on his left and hit a rasping shot that struck the bar. It was a moment that would ultimately prove pivotal. Had that gone in, with a one goal defecit and plenty of time left the momentum may well have swung in favour of Japan. But soon after Adryan produced a moment of brilliance to all but end the tie.

After Nakamura saved well from a Misael shot across goal, the stocky number 10 picked up the ball on the corner of the penalty area with not much danger in sight. Executing a Cruyff turn that the man himself would have been proud of, Adryan left Kawaguchi for dead and hit a thunderous strike with his left foot that beat Nakamura at his near post.

The goal seemed to settle Japan, with nothing to lose they looked relaxed and with around 15 minutes to go they pegged one back. Ishige lifted a ball over the top and for one of the first times in the match Japan got in behind the Brazilian back four. The two substitutes combined as Takagi crossed for the late arriving Nakajima to finish calmly.

Japan were giving all they had to get the necessary two goals, but it wasn’t until the 88th minute that they got a goal back. A deep corner by Ishige was cushioned back across goal and after it clipped the cross bar, Hayakawa was on hand to nod into the empty net.

You had the feeling that Japan would get one more chance and they did. Ishige burst into the area and somewhat erratically fired across goal. Reminiscent of Paul Gascoigne against Germany in Euro 96, Nakajima came so close to getting on the end of the cross-cum-shot to tap home the equaliser but failed to make contact.

Brazil held on for the win but the final whistle was met with relief rather than ecstasy in the knowledge that this Japan team had pushed them all the way.  

Overall Review 
With the group of players playing far beyond the level most had expected, in terms of performance there is little to criticise, neither is there much point in doing so given the age group. What should be looked at is the state of youth development, the consequent players it’s producing and what can be improved.

As I mentioned earlier, the influence of Brazil on Japanese football should not be underestimated. Brazilian players continue to play a significant role in the J.League today, but the influence dates back a number of footballing generations.

Fellow Asian Football Feast contributor Matthew Kenny wrote on the subject: “The likes of Zico, Dunga and Leonardo had a hugely positive impact on Japanese football, teaching their hard-working teammates the value of technique and good attitude”.

Indeed one of the best qualities that the Japanese possess is that they work so hard for each other and are so disciplined in their roles. This was apparent with this young team as the levels of physical fitness displayed by the players were incredibly high and allowed them to compensate for having lesser height and physique than their opposition.

But what has come on a lot in recent years in the Japanese game is the tactical nous shown by the coaches and players and this was by far the most encouraging sign given by this group. Yoshitake was one of the few coaches to use the entirety of his squad and the ease at which players came into the side and adapted to the changing formations was phenomenal. Having such a high level of tactical maturity and the fitness needed to put Yoshitake’s plans into practice meant that Japan were probably the most impressive 'team' at the tournament. 

However, it seems that the 'value of technique' appears to have been lost along the way a little. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Japan have compromised technical ability over other attributes, as at the higher end of Japanese football the technique exhibited regularly by players such as Yasuhito Endo, Keisuke Honda and young prospects Takashi Usami and Ryo Miyaichi would suggest otherwise.

But the gulf between this U17 team's technical ability and their opposition was often telling. If you look at the goals Japan conceded this tournament, they were all examples of technically superior players undoing Japan's collective containment effort. Compare this to Japan's goals and even in the rout of New Zealand Japan had to work much harder for their goals to compensate for the lack of technique.

To paraphrase what Dutch coach Raymond Verheijen recently noted on twitter: developing football countries should focus on technical and tactical development to catch up with the top nations and not rely on fitness.

It’s something that is being addressed; Nobuyuki Uenoyama, head of the J.League's technical committee recently said: "Most of the people who trained the Samurai Blue into who they are today are high school teachers". Although increased numbers of pro-licensed coaches in recent years have improved the situation for this group of youngsters, its still evident that level of technique is not yet up to the standards of the leading nations.

Finally and perhaps this point is a little harsh, it appears that Japan suffers from the age old problem of pigeonholing players due to their physical attributes. Of course, the demographic of Japan plays a part in the type of players Japan produces and so to expect a Drogba-esque striker is pointless.

However, as the tallest players were the three goalkeepers and the two centre backs Ueda and Iwanami it seems to suggest that it’s true to an extent. Japan’s national team currently have a problem with a lack of a natural striker and this was very much the case for this U17 team. If Japan are to compete at a higher level they need to be producing a wider variety of attacking players, not just small industrious types that make intelligent runs.

Notable Individuals 

Naomichi Ueda - The tall, ball-playing centre back was the only ever present player for Japan and outshone his centre-back partner, the captain Iwanami. Weak on the back foot, but strong in the air and a good reader of the game, he was often seen stepping up to dispossess deep lying forwards on a number of occasions. Furthermore, just as Ryo Miyaichi had done in the previous U17 World Cup, both Ueda and Muroya showed that the high school system can still produce high level players and it’s not surprising to see a number of J.League Clubs chasing his signature.


Naoki Kawaguchi - Although the full back didn't start in the first game against Jamaica, he took his chance against France and went on to be the most improved player during the team's time in Mexico. His ability to get forward gave the team the needed width to stretch their opposition and create gaps for the trio of attacking midfielders to exploit. Defensively he has the intensity in terms of closing down that is so often lacking in full backs of the attacking mould and positionally it all seems to come very naturally to him. I would say that he is the most likely to push on from this group.

Fumiya Hayakawa - The full back/winger was my player of the tournament for Japan. A good mix of industriousness complimented by end product, he finished the tournament with an impressive 3 goals and 2 assists. Would like to see more work done on his defensive qualities and see him develop as a full back as he doesn't have the ability to be a midfielder at the top level. If he does concentrate on that part of his game he and Kawaguchi could well be the left and right back pairing for Albirex Niigata in a couple of years.

The Coach 
Hirofumi Yoshitake’s contribution to the team’s success at this tournament should not be underestimated. Getting such a young team to stick to such a patient approach is admirable enough, that he was able to get results with the system is quite outstanding. He is already looking ahead, stating that he “would like to work hard to narrow those gaps [between Japan and the top teams] and bring another team to the world championship with those who were born in 1996.” With Yoshitake in charge, the next generation will certainly be in good hands.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Djohar Arifin Husin elected new PSSI Chairman

By Paul Williams

Djohar Arifin Husin was today elected as the Chairman of the PSSI, gaining 61 votes at the PSSI Congress.

Held at the Sunan Hotel in Solo, Central Java, the Congress has been shrouded in controversy for months with candidates pulling out late, claims of vote-buying and intervention from FIFA.

Djohar Arifin Husin is a current advisor to the Indonesian Minister of Sport, former Chairman of the North Sumatra Province FA and secretary general of KONI, the national sports committee of Indonesia.

The result is seen as a great one for Indonesian football, with the opportunity for actual change and reform now a real possibility.

More to follow...


Fowler goes Thai

By Kitinan Sanguansak - AFF Thai correspondent
Fowler arrives in Thailand
Thai fans’ dreams of watching a familiar name on TV play in the Thailand Premier League is only a step away after former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler flew in yesterday to thrash out his shock move to TPL champions Muang Thong United.
The 36-year-old, who scored 183 goals during his eight-year stay with the Merseyside club, is set to become by far the highest profile player to have play in the country’s top flight, with some details on his contract still to be ironed out.
Fowler’s arrival was the vindication of the giant leap the league has taken over the past few years, which saw a sharp increase of attendance in the competition that not so long ago struggled to draw interest from the public.
Observers believe the signing of the player nicknamed the “God” for his scoring exploits would be a big boon for the league in term of its growth, a notion that was strengthened by positive reaction of fans in general not only a group of Muang Thong supporters, some of those already indicating that they wanted to watch the games featuring Fowler.
A group of fans wearing Liverpool shirts as well as a contigent of local media arrived at the Suvarnbhumi airport around an hour prior to the arrival of Fowler’s flight. He drew a flood of flash bulbs from the waiting photographers when coming out of the arrival gate, with fans belting out chants of “Fowler! Fowler!”.
Asked about his expectation with the new club, Fowler, with weary eyes after a long-haul flight, said he did not set particular targets but hoped to do well for the team.
Early reports suggested that Muang Thong offered Fowler only a short term contract, however, Wiluck Lohtong, the club’s deputy chairman, said the Englishman would initially sign for one year while refusing to disclose more details of the deal.
“I think the initial contract would be one year. We’ve to take many factors into our consideration. On his wage, we can’t tell you on the exact amount but it’s the high sum worth of a player of his status.
Wiluck revealed the club hoped the capture of high profile player as Fowler would help improve the team.
“We want to become one of the top teams, continentally and internationally. To have a player, who once was a star in the English Premier League, shows our capacity.
"I have no doubt on his ability despite his age as I believe he could play in our league without trouble ,"said Wiluck.
Fowler will undergo a medical check-up today before being officially unveiled as Muang Thong player tomorrow.