GETTING READY FOR KICK-OFF:
Japanese Team Prepares for World Cup
February 28, 2002
The first FIFA World Cup of the twenty-first century, to be jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea, will begin on May 31. Japan, which qualified automatically for the finals as one of the host nations, began preparing for the tournament in late January. And on February 4 the uniforms that the team will wear at the event itself were unveiled; blue is the dominant color, and they incorporate the latest technology. World Cup fever is gaining momentum.
The Battle for Places
The Japanese team's World Cup year opened in the city of Ibusuki in Kagoshima Prefecture, southern Kyushu. This is the same city where reigning World Cup champions France will hold a pre-World Cup training camp in May. The five-day camp that began on January 21 brought together 41 hopefuls for Japan's World Cup squad. The six Japanese stars who play abroad, including Hidetoshi Nakata of Italian Serie A side Parma, Shinji Ono of Dutch First-Division team Feyenoord, and goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi of Portsmouth in England, did not take part, but they are all strong candidates for a place in the squad. A total of 47 players - these six plus the 41 who attended the camp - will contest the 23 places available in the World Cup squad.
Japan's manager Philippe Troussier has said in the past that 90% of the squad is already decided. Explaining why he had assembled 41 players for the camp, he said, "If any of the key players are injured, others will have the chance to make the squad. I don't want them to give up now." This boosted the motivation of the new faces.
Of all the players who have recently emerged as candidates for the World Cup squad, Alessandro dos Santos deserves a particular mention. Born in Brazil, last November he achieved his wish of receiving Japanese citizenship, removing the barrier to his playing for the Japanese national team. A left winger whose trademarks are mazy dribbles and a sharp eye for goal, he is expected to be one of Japan's trump cards.
Eight Matches to Go
The schedule of preparations that Troussier will use to strengthen his team in the run-up to the tournament is complete. Following two training camps in February, on March 21 Japan will play Ukraine in Osaka in their first friendly match of the year. Soon after that they will leave for Europe, where they will meet World Cup qualifier Poland. They will also undertake a two-week European tour in May. And on May 25, six days before the World Cup begins, they will play Sweden in Tokyo in the last of eight scheduled warm-up matches.
The Japanese national team's new uniform was unveiled on February 4. It uses high-tech fiber and has improved capacity to absorb sweat. This is important, as the World Cup will take place during Japan's hot and humid rainy season. The shirt is blue with two thin red lines representing the outline of Mount Fuji. In how many World Cup games will this uniform be worn this summer? At least three, Japan's three group-stage games. Wondering whether they will see the uniform in the knockout stage, too, is helping to increase the mood of excitement among Japanese people.