Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Japanese Reality Checker

Let's hear it for Yuji Nakazawa. A guy who is honest about his team's situation in the looming 2010 World Cup.

Nakazawa is Japan's captain. And he isn't sugar-coating anything.

Japan is an enormous underdog to survive its group. Because it is in Group E with the Netherlands (which could win the whole shootin' match), Cameroon (which could make a deep run) and Denmark (well-organized and has Niklas Bendtner).

But instead of coming up with the usual "we will surprise people" or playing the "we get no respect card," Nakazawa has been blunt.

To wit:

He said the Japanese team needs to have courage to survive a "frightful" schedule. Which sums it up.

"All those teams are full of dangerous players at big European clubs," Nakazawa told Reuters. "Basically they will punish you if you make a mistake. The forwards are all frightening. We need to be very wary of them. They can pounce late in games if you let your concentration slip. We are well aware of the threat but if we go in scared of them we will be in trouble. We have to play with courage and have belief in ourselves."

What I like about that statement? It doesn't denigrate his own side. But it lays out the challenge Japan faces.

Japan will have to play out of its mind to advance. It won't be easy, and the opposition has some highly skilled players.

I don't expect Japan to survive. I doubt Japan will get a point, unless it can manage a tie against, say, Denmark.

But Japan will play hard for 90-plus minutes. Japan's guys will run until they drop. Like some of the other lower-middling clubs in the world (South Korea and the United States come to mind), they try to make up for a lack of great technical skill with a high work rate and sheer "want-to".

I admire clubs like that. I would like to see them win.

It's just not the way to bet.

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