Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Japan Coach Derided

About now, everybody in the World Cup is talking up everyone else. "Algeria looks tough." "Slovakia could be dangerous." "Have to respect New Zealand." It's a sports tradition to insist overlooked opponents are stronger than they really are.

And then there is Japan, which is perhaps the only national side in South Africa 2010 regularly receiving abuse from outsiders.

Basically, for two reasons:

Japan has never done much in the World Cup ... and its coach predicted his team will reach (gulp!) the semifinals.

Now it's open season on poor Japan. Which seems ready to dump its overly confident coach even before Japan has lost its first Group E match. Japan is grouped with Netherlands, Cameroon and Denmark, a tough crew for anyone.

The Johannesburg Times has an AFP story in which coach Takeshi Okada is mocked for his "semifinals" prediction, noting "the football world only scratched its head when Takeshi Okada repeatedly insisted that Japan could make the semifinals in South Africa.

"The home-grown manager’s target has even confused his players and angered supporters as a 'bad joke' as the Blue Samurai struggled against rank outsiders in recent internationals amid persistent calls for his resignation."


A local sports journalist trashed the coach, as well. "Okada’s goal has become just a bad joke," popular soccer writer Tatsuhito Kaneko wrote in his column after Japan lost 3-0 to a second-string Serbia in a home warm-up match in April.

"It is like ordering the current national team to walk to the moon," he added. "What is needed is a handy and specific goal which can excite the fans and inspire the players to work a bit harder."

Japan's only World Cup success came in 2002, when it advanced out of the group stage -- while co-hosting the event with Korea -- and lost in the round of 16. That was when Frenchman Philippe Troussier coached the team, not the overmatched Okada.

Troussier suggested Okada was trying to get some attention for his team.

"The world is looking down on Japan," he said, adding Europe "lacks respect" for little-known Japan. "Manager Okada may be trying to demonstrate Japan’s pride to the world."

Well, OK. Sure. "You boys can win!" Sometimes that works.

But it isn't working in Japan itself. A Japanese newspaper conducted a survey in which 80 percent of respondents said Japan would not win a match in South Africa. Which, actually, sounds about right, no matter Okada's high expectations.
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