Comment: Japan And Australian Olympic Coaches In Same Boat

When Japan under-23 coach Yasuharu Sorimachi shakes hands with Australian counterpart Graham Arnold at Home’s Stadium in Kobe on July 24, the two will have plenty in common. That’s because both coaches have been savaged by their domestic media for some surprise omissions from their respective Olympic squads.

In Graham Arnold’s case it was the omission of AEK Athens youngster Nathan Burns and Gençlerbirligi striker Bruce Djite – both formerly of Adelaide United - that drew the wrath of certain sections of the Australian media. Yet Sorimachi’s squad selection has also caused bemusement in a country where Olympic football is serious business.

While Japan rarely impressed during qualifying – needing at least a point in their final qualifier against Saudi Arabia, they scraped through thanks to a scoreless draw at the National Stadium in Tokyo, their performances were built on solid defensive displays. Thus the omission of defenders Masahiko Inoha and Naoaki Aoyama is puzzling. Inoha is a former captain of the under-23 side, but the ex-FC Tokyo star has seemingly paid the price for a lack of first team action at new club Kashima Antlers. Naoaki Aoyama’s omission is equally baffling. During the qualification campaign the Shimizu S-Pulse defender was an ever-present for both club and country, yet on the eve of the Olympics, the powerful central defender has suddenly been overlooked.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima youngster Toshihiro Aoyama is another who may feel hard done by. The combative midfielder’s dramatic goal-line clearance against Saudi Arabia proved integral to Japan reaching the Olympics, yet six months later Aoyama finds himself out in the cold. That his club are currently plying their trade in J2 has little bearing, given that Cerezo Osaka’s Shinji Kagawa and surprise package Yohei Toyoda of Montedio Yamagata have both been named. There was no room, however, for Urawa Reds duo Tsukasa Umesaki and Sergio Escudero, despite both having featured in recent squads.

Only two overseas-based players were picked in the form of VV Venlo midfielder Keisuke Honda and Takayuki Morimoto of Catania, so there was no place for Celtic midfielder Koki Mizuno. Meanwhile the attempted selection of overage players reached a farcical conclusion when Vissel Kobe refused to release star man Yoshito Okubo for the tournament, while Gamba Osaka midfielder and Hepatitis C sufferer Yasuhito Endo was ruled out after he was recently hospitalised with severe fatigue. As such Japan will feature no overage players at the Olympics, prompting coach Sorimachi to quip: “We have been trying to develop the under-23 players and this is a result of that.”

Despite the omissions Japan will nevertheless send a strong squad to Beijing as they aim for a repeat performance of their 1968 Olympic campaign, when Japan returned with a bronze medal. Full internationals Atsuto Uchida and Michihiro Yasuda both drop back to the under-23 team to join the likes of captain Hiroki Mizumoto, while creative midfielder Yohei Kajiyama and star striker Tadanari Lee will hope to add some attacking spark to what is a defensive-minded line-up.

The squad’s first test comes when they meet Australia in their friendly in Kobe on July 24, with both teams eyeing each other warily. Fans of both teams seem to regard their opponents as the stronger outfit, although that assessment may change after the Olyroos most recent 1-0 defeat to China. Outgoing JFA-chairman Saburo Kawabuchi’s recent claim that Australia are not the strongest team in Japan’s World Cup qualifying group will add further spice to the occasion, although the perception remains that while the Japan under-23 side holds a mutual respect for their Australian counterparts, both sides know little of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Nevertheless Japan will be determined to turn in a decent performance ahead of their final friendly against powerhouses Argentina at the National Stadium in Tokyo on July 29, for whom Barcelona star Lionel Messi is likely to feature. While Olympic football may hold little sway in Europe, it continues to command attention from South America, with Argentina and Brazil both sending star-studded squads to Beijing.

In the wake of Australia’s disappointing 1-0 loss to China under-fire Olyroos coach Graham Arnold has vowed to field overage players Jade North and Archie Thompson from the start in Kobe. Whether that is enough to placate fans not only smarting from the omission of Burns and Djite, but also the likes of rising Newcastle Jets star James Holland and 1.FC Nürnberg midfielder Dario Vidosic, remains to be seen.

One thing is certain: both Japan and Australia will be desperate to turn in a confidence-boosting performance when they face each other at the 2002 World Cup venue. With the vultures already circling ahead of their respective Beijing campaigns, anything less than a win in Kobe may hit hard at the credibility of both Yasuharu Sorimachi and Graham Arnold, as the two coaches aim to find a winning formula before the Olympics kick off on August 7.

Comment: Japan And Australian Olympic Coaches In Same Boat Reviewed by admin Ucop on 5:05 AM Rating: 5

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