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2011年2月 1日 (火)

アジア杯優勝 日本サッカーの進化を見た

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 1, 2011)
Asian Cup win reflects evolution in Japan soccer
アジア杯優勝 日本サッカーの進化を見た(1月31日付・読売社説)

Japan has recaptured Asia's top position in soccer through a team effort. Players beamed with delight as they hoisted the championship cup.

Alberto Zaccheroni's side beat Australia 1-0 in the final as Japan clinched the Asian Cup for the first time in two championships in Qatar Saturday night to win a record fourth title.

The victory came as an exhilarating achievement amid a recent series of grim news events. We want to applaud the players for their strenuous efforts and the encouragement they gave us.

The final was a thrilling seesaw struggle as the two teams fought scorelessly into extra time. Japan repeatedly fought off Australia's offensive, which took advantage of their aerial superiority, through the laborious efforts of goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima and other players.

Tadanari Lee's volley strike in the second half of extra time, which scored the decisive point, was marvellous. We were amazed to see the stamina of Yuto Nagatomo, who cut through the opponent's defense on the left side and kicked a left-wing cross to set the stage for Lee's game-winning goal.

Zaccheroni praised his team, saying: "We're a great team. I want the Japanese people to be proud of this national team." Everyone must have felt reassured as they saw the players fight on unflinchingly in the face of offense by sturdy opponents.


World Cup experience counts

In last year's soccer World Cup, Japan advanced to the final 16. Samurai Blue members at the time included Keisuke Honda and Makoto Hasebe, in addition to Nagatomo and Kawashima. All of them were core players this time.

Their experience of having achieved more than expected at the world's supreme soccer competition must have given them great confidence. They demonstrated skills and fighting spirit whereby they fought back without becoming upset, even when the team was in a disadvantageous position.

This was most clearly displayed in a quarterfinal match with Asian Cup host nation Qatar. Japan was forced to fight an uphill battle with most of the spectators cheering for the home team, and even had one player ejected with a second yellow card while the team was trailing 2-1. But Japan came out victorious as it managed to score two more goals in the remaining time.

In a semifinal match with South Korea, Japan lost its 2-1 lead as the second half of extra time neared its end, sending the game into a penalty shootout. Kawashima did an excellent job as he stopped the first two penalty kicks.

That Japan narrowly won the game with its long-standing Asian rival helped bolster the team's solidarity. This could represent what the coach and players referred to as "growth."


Further efforts needed

Due to time zone differences, Japan's knockout tournament games were televised in the late night or early morning hours, but they chalked up high TV viewer ratings nonetheless.

Japan's national team became stronger with each group and tournament round game. Many Japanese people were wide awake, frantically rooting for the team when the final was televised here in the predawn hours on Sunday.

Winning the Asian Cup boosts our hopes for Japan's performance in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The regional preliminary round for that championship will start this autumn. Other Asian countries most likely will step up their study of Japan with the aim of beating the reigning Asian champion.

We want Japan's national team players to further hone their skills and show their improved strength as Asian champions.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 31, 2011)
(2011年1月31日00時57分  読売新聞)


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