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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2005


Osim points the way to Germany 2006 for his young captain Abe

JEF United's worldly-wise manager, Ivica Osim, isn't exactly known for singing the praises of his team or individual players.

Jeremy Walker

So when a twinkle lights up his eyes and he says one of his players can make it to the World Cup next year, you know he's talking business.

The player in question is Yuki Abe, a 23-year-old veteran of 167 league games and the team captain.

On Sunday evening he had a fine match, running the midfield and helping United beat Kashiwa Reysol 2-1 in the Chiba derby at Kashiwa Hitachi Stadium. It was a performance which had the 64-year-old Bosnian coach positively purring.

"I am happy all the time with Abe," Osim said. "I hope he can go to Germany next year.

"He has good defense and good offense, but he must do more."

More what?

"More everything," he replied. "More running, more tackling, more shooting. Modern football is about running. Even Zidane or Ronaldo . . . if they don't run they are nothing."

The biggest problem facing Abe is that Zico is overloaded with defensive midfielders.

Shinji Ono, Junichi Inamoto, Koji Nakata, Takashi Fukunishi and Yasuhito Endo are all ahead of him in the queue for the two places in the starting lineup, and that's assuming the Brazilian coach uses Hidetoshi Nakata in a more attacking role.

So Abe hasn't much time to impress.

"He needs to give 10 percent more in everything for the next three months," reckons Osim.

"Defensively he is very good -- physically, tackling and heading -- but he must be better offensively. He must become a more dangerous player.

"He has two good feet and can shoot from 20, 25 meters; he times his runs well from midfield . . . but he must do more."

Osim, who coached the talented Yugoslavia team at the 1990 World Cup, is just the man to point Abe in the right direction.

Hiroyoshi Kuwabara's first J. League goal was a long time coming -- but what a cracker to break that 11-year drought!

The Albirex midfielder was playing his 244th top-flight game on Saturday, against Gamba Osaka at the Big Swan in Niigata, and finally got his name on the scoresheet with a classy strike, hit with the outside of the right foot and curled into the corner from just outside the box.

"Yes, I'm very happy," he said after the game, "but not for me. I'm happy because the team won."

Clearly the 33-year-old former Sanfrecce Hiroshima stalwart had this speech prepared (since 1995) and produced the perfect J. Speak for the moment. Team first, individual glory last -- that's what the coaches want to hear in Japan.

It was, indeed, a fine victory for Albirex, 4-2 against title-chasing Gamba on a night when rain fell in buckets and thunder rolled around the Big Swan.

Maybe there was a full moon, too, which turned the mild-mannered midfielder into such a goal-hungry demon.

The Celtic/Shunsuke fans still want their say, although the hotline has been pretty quiet since the 3-1 beating by Rangers at Ibrox on Saturday.

It wasn't the best of Old Firm debuts for Nakamura, as the Hoops were reduced to 10 men in the first half when Alan Thompson was dismissed, and Celtic manager Gordon Strachan took off the Japanese midfielder early in the second half.

Following last week's column, many readers have been in touch.

Steven Grant, of Happy Valley on Hong Kong Island writes: "This is in response to Jeremy Walker's latest column, 'Celtic fans pin hopes on Shunsuke, their new hero in hoops.'

"I agree that it's way too early in Nakamura's career to judge his worth against players of the caliber of Larsson, Gascoigne & Laudrup, BUT . . . "In response to the line, 'Yes, Shunsuke has his qualities, but he also has his faults. This is why he was not included in Japan's 2002 World Cup squad,and why he was not picked up by a bigger Italian club, or by one in Spain,after three years with modest Reggina.'

"I'd just like to point out to the supposedly well-informed Jeremy that Gazza and Laudrup both left Italian clubs to join Rangers, after a number of years playing there, and no Italian/Spanish/English clubs stepped in to stop them. This is exactly like the Nakamura situation -- so his point is totally invalid.

"And as for his cheap shot at Celtic's standing, 'Oh . . . and as for Celtic being a team of note on the European stage . . . were you around in 1967, Simon?'

"Maybe Jeremy should ask himself where Simon was in May 2003. It's possible Simon was in Seville to watch Celtic play Porto in the UEFA Cup final.

"Or maybe on another night in the last four years he was at Celtic Park watching the Hoops, a team of little European note, beat Juventus, Liverpool, Porto, Blackburn Rovers, Rosenborg, Lyon, Stuttgart, Barcelona, Celta Vigo, Anderlecht, or one of the disappointing home draws with Bayern Munich and AC Milan.

"If Jeremy doesn't stick to being a little more objective then his views will lose credibility."

That's an impressive list, Steven. So impressive that I checked a few of my reference books again but, nope . . . couldn't find Celtic winning a European trophy since the European Cup in 1967.

Depends what you mean by success, but my idea is the Lisbon Lions. Are you seriously putting those recent results up against the famous 2-1 victory over Inter?

Regarding the pre-Glasgow careers of Paul Gascoigne, Brian Laudrup and Shunsuke.

Gazza: Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, 1990 World Cup semifinal, 1991 FA Cup final (badly injured, of course, which made him damaged goods by the time he arrived at Lazio in the summer of 1992)

Laudrup: Brondby, Bayer Uerdingen, Bayern Munich, Fiorentina, AC Milan, 1992 European Championship-winner with Denmark . . .

Shunsuke: Yokohama F. Marinos, Reggina, 2004 Asian Cup winner and MVP . . .

No Steven, I will lose credibility when I start to compare Shunsuke Nakamura with Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup. As I said last week, it's not fair on Shunsuke. Leave him alone.

Player of the Week: Japanese striker Sota Hirayama, who scored twice after coming off the bench to make his debut for Heracles Almelo in a 2-1 victory over Den Haag.

Seems like a smart move to leave Tsukuba University and join the newly promoted Dutch first division club.

Quote of the Week: "There are goals here. I can smell them."

-- Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, after his team's 1-0 defeat of Aston Villa on Saturday. So it is true: Ruud van Nistlerooy really does get up everyone's nose -- not just Arsene Wenger's.

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