Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Blue Samurai Left Kicking Themselves

Who would have thought that Japan, master of the set piece and tamer of the Jabulani ball, would be done in by penalty kicks? So it transpired Tuesday after 2 hours of scoreless soccer as Japan exited the 2010 World Cup at the hands of Paraguay.

It wasn’t much of a match. Both defenses were just good enough, and both offenses were just bad enough. Neither team felt it was quite good enough to win it, so they played not to lose and were content to hand over their fate to penalty kicks, which (for everyone but the English) is a no different than a coin flip. To its credit, Paraguay made all five penalty kicks and thus advanced.

The Blue Samurai will receive a warm welcome when they arrive back home. Of course, it’s easy to exceed expectations when you have none going in. This was a team that performed so poorly over the past few months that it was booed off the pitch once and was best known for breaking Didier Drogba’s arm. Yet this side with no major international stars used just enough wit, guile, and style to win two games and come with a whisker of advancing to the final eight.

The secret lies in wa, or harmony. The Japanese used teamwork and unity to make up for a skill deficiency, and perhaps provided a lesson to some fractious, star-laden European sides.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Japan Takes “Free”way into Knockout Stage

The plucky Blue Samurai showed amazing fighting spirit and just enough wa to route Denmark and advance to the knockout stage of the World Cup. It’s a tournament of firsts so far for the Japanese team, as it won its first World Cup game ever outside Japan and by extension advanced beyond the group stage for the first time on foreign soil.

The boys in blue wasted little time seizing the advantage over the Northern Europeans. In the 17th minute breakout star Keisuke Honda lined up a long free kick and sent a powerful left-footed boot just beyond the reach of the diving Danish goalkeeper. In the 30th minute Yasuhito Endo presided over a free kick from the top of the penalty box and hammered it home.

Denmark controlled most of the second half and had several shots that challenged the Japanese goalkeeper, and one quality strike that banged off the woodwork. The Danes finally entered the scoring column in the 81st minute as Jon Dahl Tomasson converted the rebound of his own missed penalty kick.

But it was too little too late, and the Blue Samurai weren’t done scoring. In the 87th minute the magical Honda accepted a pass at the top of the box, outwitted a defender, then laid off a perfect pass for Shinji Okazaki to finish into an open net.

In a tournament that’s practically bereft of free quick goals, it’s somewhat amazing the Japanese pulled it off twice in a half. Additionally, in the second half, Endo’s right foot launched another free quick that the goalkeeper deflected off the crossbar. The infamous Jabulani ball is the culprit. Some have gone so far as to say it’s cursed--that it simply behaves on its own whims. The truth is that it’s airy and light and therefore tends to sail. No one’s tamed it yet--except the Japanese. Expect that to be a key factor in their favor against Paraguay next Tuesday.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Blue Samurai Best Indomitable Lions

The 2010 World Cup has its first upset!

On the American broadcast, the commentators went out of their way to inform viewers just how good the Cameroonian side was. They are bigger and more athletic; 22 of 23 team members play professionally in Europe. Samuel Eto’o is regarded as one of the top five players in the world. And, Cameroon was playing a virtual home game.

Meanwhile, Japan had a problem of giving up too many goals and scoring too many. The team was criticized for passing too much. Most team members played domestically in the J-League; they had no world-class players.

All of this was true, but none of it mattered. On the stroke of the 38th minute, Keisuke Honda, the only noteworthy Japanese player the commentators mentioned before the game, found himself alone in front of the goal with the ball at his feet. He calmly flicked it past the keeper, and Japan took a one nil lead it would never relinquish.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Five Stars for Tokyo Lives

A fan of mine recently took time to review Tokyo Lives on Goodreads. She gave it five stars (thanks!)…now find out why by reading her review.