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Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011

Kimura eyes return to Marinos' heyday

Staff writer

YOKOHAMA — Yokohama F. Marinos manager Kazushi Kimura has set his sights on nothing less than the J. League title as he attempts to shake the former powerhouse out if its seven-year slumber.

News photo
In the driver's seat: Yokohama F. Marinos manager Kazushi Kimura hopes Shunsuke Nakamura (25) can lead his team to the J. League title this season. KYODO PHOTO

Three-time champion Yokohama has not won any silverware since back-to-back league titles in 2003 and 2004, stumbling into the midtable wilderness amid a succession of player departures, managerial changes and unsuccessful signings.

But Kimura, who is entering his second year in charge after leading the club to an eighth-place finish last season, believes there is no reason why Marinos cannot jump straight past the leading pack to claim the trophy for themselves.

"This season we're going for the title," the 52-year-old said on the eve of Monday's first training session ahead of the new season. "We've got new players coming in and players returning from loans, so we've got good competition for places and we're stronger.

"Last year I said we would be in the title race, but there were a lot of things I didn't know. This year we're going out with a strong belief that we can win it. I'm demanding that the players always have it in their heads that the aim is to win — every title and with everything they've got."

Much will rest on the shoulders of Shunsuke Nakamura, who rejoined the club early last season after almost eight years in Europe, but Marinos have been busy providing their star man with a supporting cast. Midfielder Hiroyuki Taniguchi has arrived from Kawasaki Frontale with Koji Yamase going the other way, while veteran striker Masashi Oguro bolsters the attack after joining from Tokyo Verdy.

"I'm happy that I'll be playing with good players," said Oguro, who spent last season on loan at Yokohama FC and FC Tokyo. "I haven't set myself a specific scoring target — I just want to score a lot.

"It's been a long time since I have been able to be part of a team right from the training camp, which is good. I can work on combining well with the other players so that we are ready for the start of the season."

Stalwart defender Naoki Matsuda has left the club after 15 years' service, but Naoaki Aoyama has arrived from Shimizu S-Pulse and further cover at the back will be provided by loan returnee Kim Kun Hoan and former Kashiwa Reysol right back Yuzo Kobayashi.

"I think this is an environment where I can feel comfortable and get down to work," said Kobayashi, who helped Reysol gain promotion from the second division last season. "I felt like I wanted a new challenge and Marinos are an excellent team, so this move is really all about improving myself as a player."

For all the new arrivals, however, Marinos are hoping a homegrown youngster can be their ace in the hole. Eighteen-year-old youth team graduate Yuji Ono made his first-team debut midway through last season, and proved such a success that he starts the new season wearing the coveted No. 10 shirt.

"Now that I've been given No. 10 I'll try to live up to the expectations that go with it," Ono said. "I want to be the kind of No. 10 who can do everything — score goals, make them for others and help out in defense.

"I was surprised when I was told this would be my number, but it wasn't something I could refuse and I was happy to accept. But really, shirt numbers are not something I pay much attention to."

Qatar wins through

DOHA (AP) Host Qatar reached the Asian Cup quarterfinals for the second time in its history Sunday following a 3-0 victory over Kuwait, and Uzbekistan advanced with a 2-2 draw that sent opponent China home.

Qatar, flying high following its winning bid to host the 2022 World Cup, needed a victory against winless Kuwait to ensure it advanced. Two first-half goals in five minutes set coach Bruno Metsu's side on its way and sent the crowd of 28,000 at Khalifa Stadium into delirious celebrations.

Across town, China fought back from a goal down to draw with Uzbekistan, but the team still finished third in Group A. The early exit was the latest disappointment for the Chinese, who have struggled since qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, having also left the Asian Cup early in 2007.

Uzbekistan topped the group with seven points.

"In the previous tournaments, we were out from the first round. But now we are better and deserve to qualify and go to the final," said Qatar defender Bilal Mohammed.

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