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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

J. WALKING

Poised Oguro points the way forward for Japan's strikers


Scottish coaching guru Andy Roxburgh must have a sense of deja vu watching Japan at the Confederations Cup in Germany.

Jeremy Walker

FIFA's technical chief is seeing the same old problems surface that blighted Japan's World Cup debut in France '98.

Namely, a lack of goals to match all the neat approach play, and the inability to put a team to the sword when dominating possession.

"The Japanese forwards must learn to calm down when they have a chance to score a goal," Roxburgh said seven summers ago in Paris.

"If you watch the great strikers, like Gabriel Batistuta or Davor Suker, they visibly relax when a chance comes their way, and they are able to take it.

"But if you watch the Japanese they are in too much of a hurry. They rush things, and the chance is gone."

Seven years on, Roxburgh is giving his technical assessment of the Confederations Cup on FIFA's official Web site, FIFA.com.

This is what he wrote after Japan's 1-0 victory over Greece on Sunday night.

"The problem that Japan often face is that they do everything at such a pace they find it difficult to find the composure to finish off their moves.

"They don't try to change their tempo at all. With Brazil you will find them slowing down near goal to make sure they are composed -- Ronaldo will decelerate just before getting his shot away -- but Japan don't do that. Even so you can only admire the enthusiasm they bring to the game."

Roxburgh, of course, is anxious not to appear too critical of an Asian team that has just beaten the reigning European champion, and he says Japan defended "heroically" against Greece's aerial battery.

Japan's victory, indeed, was a fine achievement, and will mark this Confederations Cup campaign as satisfactory, and a step in the right direction on the road to Germany 2006, no matter the result of Wednesday's final Group B match with Brazil in Cologne.

The problems that were evident in the opening 2-1 defeat by Mexico -- losing the aerial duels and leaving a big space between the midfield and defense -- were remedied against Greece, and only poor finishing let down Japan.

Keiji Tamada, woefully out of form for Kashiwa Reysol this season, was lucky to be in the squad, let alone the starting lineup, and his lack of confidence shone through.

When Japan needed a goal, though, Masashi Oguro was there to provide it again. A neat pass from Shunsuke Nakamura, who would win the FIFA man-of-the-match award, put Oguro in behind the Greek defense, and the Gamba Osaka man finished in his customary, no-nonsense style.

Whether Oguro merits a place in the starting lineup remains to be seen, as he is very effective coming off the bench against tiring defenders, but there's no better time for Zico to give him his first Confederations Cup start than against Brazil.

If anyone can take a chance when it presents itself at the moment, that player is Oguro.

Andy Roxburgh will not be the only one watching this match very closely.

Former Urawa Reds forward Aitor Beguiristain has a piece of advice for Japanese players considering moving to Italy.

"Don't do it," he says. "Come to Spain instead."

The Italian League stifles creative talent, he feels, whereas the Spanish League encourages it, and a player such as Shunsuke Nakamura would flourish in Spain.

After three years with Reggina in Italy, Nakamura is set to move to Spain this summer, with both Atletico Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna keen to sign the former Yokohama F. Marinos playmaker.

Beguiristain, now a high-ranking executive at Barcelona, feels Nakamura would benefit immensely from a change of scenery.

"The most important thing is that he would enjoy football again," he said.

"It is very difficult to play in Italy if you are a striker or an attacking midfielder because there is not the space and they are very good in defense.

"In Spain we like quality and talent, and he has that. I remember when I was here he was very young and was a good player. He could play in Spain and also do a good job because he is a wonderful player."

Beguiristain scored 16 goals in 61 league appearances for Urawa between 1997 and 1999 and remains a hero with the Reds fans, who turned out in force to see Barcelona's recent 3-0 victory over his old J. League team at Saitama Stadium 2002.

This column has already featured another Shunsuke who is starting to make his mark in the J. League, and now beyond.

With his dramatic late goal for Japan against Australia in the FIFA World Youth Championship on Saturday night, the stock of Sanfrecce Hiroshima's Shunsuke Maeda has climbed a little higher.

"It was typical of him," said club spokesman Shigeru Manabe, who spent most of Monday fielding congratulatory calls from proud Sanfrecce fans.

"He can always produce the unexpected, and he did it again. It was just amazing."

Japan's Under-20s looked down and out when trailing Australia 1-0 in their third and final Group A game in the Netherlands, but Maeda came off the bench and forced home an equalizer with just three minutes to go.

The match ended 1-1, giving Japan only two points from three games, but it was still enough to finish second in the four-team group and book a place in the knockout stages.

"We are delighted at the club, but it's going to mean more long nights watching the youth championship and the Confederations Cup in the early hours of the morning," added Manabe.

"With all these games in Europe, I've only been sleeping around four hours per night.

I think a lot of fans are in the same situation."

Player of the Week: Parma goalkeeper Sebastien Frey.

One of the most consistent -- and agile -- keepers in Serie A, the Frenchman produced a string of vital saves in Parma's 2-0 win at Bologna to keep his team in the top flight. Parma won the two-leg relegation playoff 2-1 on aggregate, condemning Bologna to Serie B next season.

Quote of the Week: "Robinho is a reality. He is a treasure for us. He has such skill, such personality, so much talent and he is so young."

-- Brazil's manager, Carlos Alberto Parreira, is fairly gushing about the Selecao's latest star.



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