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Sunday, July 15, 2007

U.S., Japan in title clash


Staff writer

Two-time defending champions Japan versus the motherland of football, the United States — it couldn't have been a better matchup to conclude this tournament.

News photo
Quarterback Tetsuo Takata helped pilot Japan to a 48-0 victory over Sweden on Thursday. He may see action in Sunday's title game against the United States. KYODO PHOTO

The teams with immense pride in football will face off in the final of the 3rd IFAF World Championships on Sunday at 3:10 p.m. at Kawasaki's Todoroki Stadium.

Japan came into this tourney with a mixed feeling of gutsy spirit and the chance to win its third straight championship, and the pressure of playing on its home soil. But the Toshiaki Abe-guided squad successfully advanced to the final by crushing France and Sweden in back-to-back 48-0 routs and removed a great deal of stress in the process.

Meanwhile, the U.S. will stake its pride as the original country of football as it prepares for the final. This tournament marks the first time the U.S. has assembled a national team.

Led by former Kansas City Chiefs head coach John Mackovic, the U.S. squad has kept morale high for the six-nation World Championships since beginning practice, in San Jose, Calif., a month ago.

The two nations are by far the best teams in the tournament and made the run to the finale with their overwhelming power, ability and elaborate plays.

It's extremely difficult to predict the outcome, however, because if Japan is to achieve a "three-peat," the core element will be its teamwork.

Although Team Japan consists of players from different clubs, mainly of the X League, the players' bond is tight and has been solidified on the gridiron because the team has worked out since March 3 — longer than any of the other teams.

In other words, the Hinomaru-jerseyed squad is the most prepared team in the World Championships.

"We have played the games with the one-game-at-a-time philosophy," Abe said after Thursday's victory over Sweden. "So we start to get prepared for the United States from now on."

The real test will come on Sunday for the Japanese team and Abe is not letting his guard down.

"My impression of the U.S. team is they have more speed than we expected and are well-coached," Abe said.

Abe had said before the tournament that it would be "a one-in-a-million opportunity" to face the U.S. in the final, because it would be a chance to showcase Japanese football to the world.

Although Team Japan is arguably the most balanced team, led by veteran quarterback Yuichi Tomizawa (Onward Skylarks) in the World Championships, while the U.S. has the edge in individual matchups. But football is not only about athleticism. Big plays come from strong unity.

Shinzo Yamada, a former linebacker who played for Japan in the last two World Championships, noted that the Americans outmatch everyone in terms of physical ability.

"On one-on-one, the United States is far better," said Yamada, who had played in the X League, NFL Europa, XFL, and Arena Football League. "But as a team, Japan is much more well-organized."

The key will be how much Japan can do in the passing game, capitalizing on talented wideouts, such as Ken Shimizu (Obic Seagulls), Naoki Maeda (Ritsumeikan University) and Koji Yoneyama (Fujitsu Frontiers).

Amazingly, seven players recorded more than 20 yards receiving each against Sweden.

"If Japan can't throw the ball, it will be a difficult game for them," Yamada said.

Team USA has advanced to the championship game by defeating South Korea 77-0 and Germany 33-7, capitalizing on its strong defense and solid run offense.

Running back Kyle Kasperbauer, who combined for 127 yards rushing with a touchdown in the two first-round games, is the primary rusher, while quarterbacks Jeff Ballard and Adam Austin take care of the passing.



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