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Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2005
Ardija's Miura should be in running for Manager of the Year
When the J. League awards are handed out next month, it's unlikely Toshiya Miura will figure among them.
But the youthful Omiya Ardija manager -- 42, going on 30 -- deserves special recognition this season for his outstanding work with Saitama Prefecture's second club.
Promoted from J2 last season, Ardija looked a good bet to go straight back down.
A small fan base, in the mighty shadow of Urawa Reds, and with home games played at three different stadiums, the Squirrels have been up against it from the first whistle of the season in March.
But, with three games to go and 37 points in the bag, they are virtually safe in 14th place.
Omiya's 1-0 victory at Kobe on Sunday not only condemned bottom club Vissel to life in J2 next season, it also moved Ardija 11 points clear of 17th-place Tokyo Verdy.
This means Miura's men cannot finish in the bottom two and be relegated automatically. Their only danger now is to finish 16th, and face a two-leg playoff against J2's third-place team, but they have a six-point cushion over Kashiwa Reysol with only nine more points available.
Omiya pull clear of the drop zone this week, it would mark a major achievement for Miura, who could easily be mistaken for a ballboy when he's wearing his tracksuit, or a fresh-faced salaryman straight out of university when he prefers the suit.
But he's not the only manager who has slogged it out in the survival scrap, a far less glamorous task than chasing championships.
Down at Oita, another young coach, 40-year-old Brazilian Chamusca, has transformed Trinita from a J2-looking outfit to a respectable mid-table team, and Takashi Sekizuka has done so well with Kawasaki Frontale that Kashima Antlers wanted him to replace Toninho Cerezo next season.
Sekizuka turned down the offer to continue his work at Todoroki.
When it comes to Manager of the Year awards, there are candidates well deserving of such recognition, even if they have not been involved in the title race.
* * *
What's that about a leopard never changing its spots?
The same applies to Alpay Ozalan, the Turkish player who was fired by Urawa Reds midway through the season and was back in the news last week for his latest violent exploits.
Anyone who caught the highlights -- make that the lowlights -- of the Turkey-Switzerland World Cup qualifier could not have failed to miss Alpay in the thick of the action, on and off the pitch.
In the first minute, he sneakily handled the ball in his own penalty area to prevent a Swiss goal-scoring opportunity, an offense even a Japanese referee could not have missed. Yet still he pleaded his innocence.
But that was tame compared to events after the final whistle, following a bad-tempered match during which a Swiss player claimed a Turkish rival had promised to slit his throat.
Welcome to Istanbul . . . and have a nice game.
As the Swiss players ran toward the tunnel following their victory on the away goals rule, one of them could be clearly seen kicking a Turkish trainer on the back of his left leg.
Then who should appear in the ensuing mayhem, trying to exact revenge but kicking the wrong Swiss player, and then being jumped on and wrestled to the ground?
Why, none other than Alpay, who blamed Japanese referees -- and Takayuki Suzuki -- for all his yellow and red cards during his calamitous, and short, J. League career.
After all, this was the guy who was run out of England for his crazed verbal volley at the heir to the throne, Prince David of Beckingham Palace, in the same intimidating atmosphere of Istanbul.
Sepp Blatter has promised to investigate the latest incident thoroughly, as president of FIFA rather than as an offended Swiss, and Alpay is sure to be high on the list of trouble-makers.
For all those who dealt with him during his time in Japan, they met a pleasant, extremely likable man. But on the pitch a red mist -- the color of Urawa and Turkey -- descends on him, turning him into a lunatic.
At least the powers that be at Urawa will be feeling vindicated by their decision to fire him.
* * *
The fact that the Socceroos have finally qualified for the World Cup, after being messed about by FIFA for far too long, is great news for Australia.
But for Asia?
Officially, the Asian Football Confederation congratulates Australia for qualifying for the first time since 1974, and there's no doubt these feelings are sincere.
But with Australia switching from the Oceania confederation to Asia next year, this is going to put a lot of pressure on the Asian teams to perform well in Germany next summer.
As things stand, Asia receives 4 1/2 berths in the 32-team lineup. The four were filled by Japan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, but Bahrain missed out to Trinidad and Tobago, from the CONCACAF zone, for one spot contested by two confederations holding half a place.
In the other intercontinental playoff, the Aussies beat Uruguay in their last World Cup qualifier as a federation affiliated with Oceania.
With its experience and quality, Australia may well outshine all four Asian entries next summer, and this could influence FIFA's allocation of places for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
A repeat of results such as Germany 8, Saudi Arabia 0, at Sapporo in 2002, could put Asia's quota of 4 1/2 places in jeopardy.
How about four places for 2010, with Australia also in the qualifying frame?
Life is about to become much harder for the established Asian powers such as Japan.
* * *
Player of the Week: Brazilian striker Ronaldinho, for his two scintillating goals in Barcelona's 3-0 victory over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. With all the yearend awards coming up, his timing, as ever, could not have been better.
Quote of the Week: "I can say for sure that we will definitely be back in J1 after one year. I believe it is our mission to turn Vissel Kobe into a team loved and respected by the people of the region."
-- Fighting talk from Vissel Kobe's owner, Internet tycoon Hiroshi Mikitani, following relegation to the second division on Sunday.