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Still Big In Japan

Japan's AFC Asian Cup title defence is on track after their 2-0 win over Jordan in Melbourne.

 
Joining the ranks of the Samurai Blue  

Joining the ranks of the Samurai Blue  

Click here to see my report for ESPNFC. 

 

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Sooceroos Asian Cup Starts Now.

The Socceroos Asian Cup campaign starts now.

Tonights match in Osaka against regional rivals Japan will set the tone for what’s to come for Ange Postecoglou’s team as it prepares to host the biggest football tournament Australia has ever seen.

Make no mistake, tonight is no “friendly”.

Matches between The Socceroos and The Samurai Blue never are. Both teams know that if they are to win Asian Football’s biggest prize it is likely they will need to triumph over the other at a crucial point in the campaign.  

Oh no not you again... Tim Cahill set to break Japanese hearts again?

Oh no not you again... Tim Cahill set to break Japanese hearts again?

Australia and Japan both had a disappointing World Cup experience in Brazil. 

Neither side registered a win. Whilst The Socceroos showed daring and enterprise they were regularly shredded in defence, shipping 9 goals in 3 games. 

The Japanese campaign was equally underwhelming, culminating in a 4-1 drubbing in their final group game against a revitalised and exuberant Colombia. 

Since then it’s been something of a roller coaster ride for Japan. World Cup coach Alberto Zaccheroni paid the price for a poor campaign in Brazil and has been replaced by Mexican Javier Aguirre. 

Results continue to be patchy for The Samurai Blue. In October they were pummelled by Brazil 4-0 in Singapore but responded at home last week with a 6-0 romp against Honduras.

It started so well. Keisuke Honda's opening goal for Japan against Ivory Coast in Brazil. 

It started so well. Keisuke Honda's opening goal for Japan against Ivory Coast in Brazil. 

Just which Japan turns up tonight may decide the outcome of the contest.

For Ange Postecoglou the raw numbers for 2014 don’t make great reading.

10  games for  1 win, a scratchy 3-2 result against Saudi Arabia in London in September. In that time The Australians have also piled up 7 losses and 2 draws conceding 18 goals along the way.

Of the 10 goals scored by The Socceroos in 2014 Tim Cahill has provided 6 of them. The chronic dependance Australia has on its talismanic veteran for goal production is Ange Postecoglou’s greatest headache.

In fact, scoring at all, anyway, anyhow, is a major challenge right now. The Socceroos have scored in only 1 of their last 5 matches.  

If they’re to seriously challenge for honours in January that drought needs to end - and fast.

Future Shock. Postecoglou's Socceroos revolution is in full swing.

Future Shock. Postecoglou's Socceroos revolution is in full swing.

Postecoglou maintains 2014 has been year zero in his football revolution and with that has come the requisite pain. He has continued to turn over his squad in an attempt to unearth players he believes have the talent and temperament to cope with the pressures of international football.

The Socceroos coach has auditioned players like they were contestants on a game show as he attempts to settle on his best XI for The Asian Cup.

In the last 3 matches alone Postecoglou has used 26 players. It’s hardly a recipe for stability and recent poor results reflect that lack of continuity. 

The Socceroos coach makes no apology for this approach. His sights are firmly fixed on the long term renovation of a team he feels had been neglected. 

The Asian Cup is the one real opportunity Australian Football has of claiming serious silverware and it simply can’t be a pit stop on a road to some other destination.

Needs must for Ange Postecoglou and his Socceroos. Whether he can balance his long term mission with the pressing demands of the here and now will be the biggest challenge of his career. 

This Socceroos team is very much a work in progress, but time stands till for no man and no team.

And tonight, the time is now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Many Faces, Voices and Places - One Game.

You're coming home with me... Pele and friend.

You're coming home with me... Pele and friend.

I am one lucky bastard.

 

As I'm frantically packing for my trip to Brazil for the FIFA World Cup Finals I'm keenly aware of that. Every one tells me so. 

 

Brazil, home of Jogo Bonito, a land of sun and samba where football is the heart and lungs of a nation, the core of it's very being.

 

It should be perfect, and of course it isn't.

 

In the weeks leading up to the greatest show on earth our news has been full of tales of chaos and confusion as Brazil struggles to meet the demands of hosting The World Cup Finals.

 

Sadly, the country has been saddled with an over reach of ambition by its rulers. It is also buckling under the weight of our expectation. 

 

Brazilians are battling to find a share in their country's extraordinary wealth. As their economy emerges as a 21st Century powerhouse, there is a struggle going on to ensure that those most in need are not left behind.

 

It can be witnessed in the "manifestations" that have occurred in the last year or so as ordinary Brazilians have taken to the streets to protest at the vast amounts of money spent by their government on hosting The World Cup.

 

Brazilians protesting about The World Cup? It seems like Santa protesting about Xmas.

 

Yet whilst we pack our bags to fly half way around the world to enjoy the trip of a lifetime, most  Brazilians live without the sort of pay, education, health, welfare, clean water and sanitation we take for granted.

 

It's a fact that disproves the cliche. Football isn't more important than life. 

 

Not even in Brazil.

 

 For most of this week I was despondent. I mean, if Brazil can't host a decent World Cup Finals, why bother holding them at all? 

 

Coupled with the continuing revelations of Qatar  successful 2022 bid, football had again started to feel like a con.

 

On the surface it's all glitz, glamour and endless possibility. Behind this flimsy facade the sleaze and corruption that oozes out of every pore of FIFA leaves a wretched stink.

 

 

As the day nears for my departure, I needed to remind myself that the game doesn't belong to the men in FIFA monogrammed blue suits who stride about as masters of the universe, though they hold it hostage - for now.

 

Nor is it the preserve of the mega corporations who pour rivers of gold into FIFA's Zurich bank accounts in order to cash in on the game the world loves.

 

It isn't their game. 

 

It's ours. 

 

Even despite the parlous state of its governance.

 

The enduring spirit of the game can't be shrink wrapped, packaged and sold to the highest bidder.

 

This revealed itself to me in Pretoria, South Africa during the 2010 FIFA World Cup Finals.

 

Japan faced Paraguay in a round of 16 game that night. One corner of the stadium was brought to life by the magnificent choreography of Japanese  Samurai Blue fans. Elsewhere in the stands, the Paraguayans were grooving to a pulsating rhythm of their own.

 

All around me, South Africans of all colour and creed enjoyed the festivities.

 

It was a brilliant occasion.

 

It occurred to me - what could possibly bring The Japanese, Paraguayans, Africans and the occasional stray Aussie together in a mood of shared celebration like this?

 

There is only one thing.

 

Football.

 

An international language, written with a ball and understood by all.

 

It is the spirit of the game that unites us despite the greed and avarice of some.

 

Many faces, voices, stories and places.

 

One beautiful game.

 

 

 

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