June 29, 2010
And all of a sudden, Japan’s exciting, eye-opening, inspirational journey comes to an end. Japan and Paraguay fought to a 0-0 draw, but Yuichi Komano hit the cross bar on his penalty try and Paraguay are through to the quarterfinals. Tears flowed freely after the game as players, coaches, and fans realized that these magical few weeks of tremendous ups and downs were finally over with one heartbreaking loss. But as we digest this sad day, I think we should hold our heads up high and realize what an amazing run Japan had in South Africa 2010, and what potential we have for 2014 and beyond.
Another day, another day to make history. Japan take on Paraguay as both teams will fight to make the quarterfinals for the first time in their histories. As always, I'll use the live blog to note major occurences in the game then write-up a match report later. Gambarre Nippon!
June 28, 2010
Now that we’ve thoroughly enjoyed and celebrated getting through to the knock-out stages, it’s time to buckle down and start thinking about and preparing for Japan’s game against Paraguay. Paraguay won Group F and is a strong South American side that wants to continue the continent’s tremendous success so far. Both teams have never made it past the round of 16, so the winner will have the pleasure of rewriting their nation’s soccer history. Let’s be clear. Japan is excited to be here. But we’re not JUST happy to be here. We don’t see this game as a bonus, nor do we see it as our final destination. There’s a lot more that this team wants to achieve.
June 25, 2010
I still can’t get over it. What a tremendous win for Japan. For the first time in our history we qualify for the knock-out stages on foreign soil, and we do it in style with two wins in a difficult group. Today’s victory against Denmark was extra special in that Japan did what everyone said they could not do - score. With three beautiful goals, Japan ride a tremendous wave of momentum into their round of 16 match vs. Paraguay next Tuesday.
June 24, 2010
With an incredible 3-1 victory of Denmark, Japan has made it to the knock-out stages of the World Cup for the first time on foreign soil! Spectacular free kicks by Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo put Japan ahead 2-0 in the first half, and while a controversial penalty kick was awarded to Denmark late in the 2nd half, Japan were able to pull away with a goal by Okazaki in the 87th minute. Japan, who looked like the weakest of the 32 teams coming into the World Cup, has now shown the world what the Blue Samurai are truly capable of. I hope everyone is celebrating this historic result! (In-Depth Match Report to come!).
June 22, 2010
“Put your lives on the line!” Coach Okada enthusiastically told his players in the latest team meeting. For a team like Japan, which has such a short, unimpressive World Cup history and hasn’t yet reached the level of the top world teams, a chance to make it into the knock-out stages of the World Cup with just a tie is rare. In fact Okada mentioned that such an opportunity “doesn’t come often in one’s lifetime.” With so much on the line, the Blue Samurai will embark on one of the most important matches in the history of Japanese football and look to either tie or beat Denmark and make it to the next round.
June 19, 2010
Japan lost 0-1 to Holland in a closely fought battle for first place in Group E as Sneijder ripped a shot that deflected off Japan GK Kawashima. I mentioned earlier that Japan needed to score their one chance and get some luck to beat Holland. To get the tie, they would need one of those two criteria to happen. Unfortunately, Japan got neither and the result was a 1-0 loss.
Here's the 2nd edition of the live blog. Kick off in a few minutes! Keep refreshing the page as I will try to type as the game goes on. Even if you can't follow the blog live, this should act as a good initial recap of the game.
June 17, 2010
After months of disappointment, Japan seems to have regained the support of its fans with its historic victory over Cameroon on Monday. People are excited about the team again and expectations have risen quickly. Post-game news coverage showed Japanese uniform clad fans jumping up and down in excitement and shouting encouragements to the team. One fan yelled out, “Okada, I’m sorry I was talking bad about you for so long!” and another shouted, “Best Four, here we come!” It’s really amazing how moods can change so quickly in sport. Before we talk about far-fetched ideas such as the Best Four, we need to ground ourselves a bit and get back to thinking about one game at a time. Holland is the strongest opponent in our group and how we play in this game will largely determine the team’s fate.
June 14, 2010
Japan has won its first ever World Cup match on foreign soil! Honda Keisuke scored on a beautifully placed cross from Daisuke Matsui and Japan were able to hold off the Indomitable Lions to the very end for a 1-0 victory. After months of criticism that escalated with four straight losses prior to the World Cup, Japan showed that they have what it takes to win when it counts.
I'll experiment with a live blog for Japan's first game. Keep refreshing the page as I will try to type as the game goes on. Even if you can't follow the blog live, this should act as a good initial recap of the game.
June 13, 2010
Prior to heading back to the hotel after their final practice before the Cameroon game, Coach Okada held a short press conference, and some of the players quickly spoke to the media. The coach and the team seem really relaxed and in positive spirits. For all the bad preparations that the team has had, it is in a very strong mental state. The following are excerpts from the interviews:
June 12, 2010
A lot of people have already given up on the Blue Samurai. With four straight losses and only one goal in that stretch, it’s understandable that the pundits have written Japan off. Japan is ranked lowest among the four group E teams and is playing some of its worst football in recent memory. Heck, even coach Okada jokingly offered to resign just a few weeks ago. But there is still hope for Japan’s supporters yet. This is the World Cup and if the opening day results proved anything, it is that once the whistle blows and the games actually mean something, FIFA rankings fly out the door and anything is possible. As we’ve been reminded time and time again by ESPN, “One game changes EVERYTHING.” For Japan a victory against Cameroon will do just that.
June 10, 2010
Japan’s World Cup preparations hit a new low as the team drew 0-0 to Zimbabwe, a team ranked 110th in the world. Japan was actually scheduled to play Mozambique, but the team notified Japanese officials that they would not show up to the game, citing fatigue from their 3-0 loss to Portugal a few days ago.
June 8, 2010
Hidetoshi Nakata, arguably Japan’s best soccer player to date, sat down for a one-on-one chat with Keisuke Honda, the CSKA Moscow player who is considered Japan’s next star. Both players are unique in Japan not only for their unmistakable soccer talent, but also for their individualistic personalities and playing styles that contrast with the typical group-first mentality of most Japanese. In a country where “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down,” these two players have bravely defied tradition and developed a playing style full of individualistic flair. Nakata, a soccer savant by Japanese standards, offers Ayn Rand-esque advice to Honda about the virtues of selfishness. The following is my paraphrased translation of the conversation that took place on Asahi TV this week. It’s long, but well worth it.
June 5, 2010
Ivory Coast beat Japan 2-0 in both teams’ final friendly before the World Cup, but the winners surely feel like losers after finding out that Drogba, their star and captain, might be out of the World Cup with a broken arm. Japan surely feel like losers after an absolutely unimpressive display of soccer that resulted in their fourth consecutive loss. What a streak to ride into the tournament.
June 4, 2010
Japan plays Ivory Coast tomorrow in Switzerland in what will be the final tune-up for both sides before the actual World Cup. Japan will use the game to prepare for its opener against Cameroon on June 14th, and Ivory Coast will hope that Japan is a good substitute for North Korea, with whom they play on June 25th. I’m not putting too much (if any) emphasis on the outcome of the game because both coaches have agreed to play three 45 minute periods, so they can get as many players on the pitch as possible. Not sure what the logistics are for the game, but I’m assuming they’ll play a full 90 minutes then add a 45 minute scrimmage. It might even be appropriate for both sides to play in their training shirts for this one.
June 2, 2010
Only by going to business school did I find out that some of the top financial institutions in the world, including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and UBS, put together colorful World Cup prediction reports filled with complex charts and graphs that analyze each country’s World Cup potential. Imagine getting paid a nice six (or seven) figure investment banking salary with bonuses measured in hundreds of percent and having the opportunity to predict the results for each of the 32 teams in the World Cup. Seems like a dream job. So let’s see who these economic experts picked to win the World Cup and how they perceive Japan’s chances.