Japan World Cup PreviewPosted: Monday May 27, 2002 8:12 PM
How they line up
Philippe Troussier's hallmark is the flat back three. He insists that everything hinges on this defensive line, and has long stood by the same core players. At the center is Ryuzo Morioka, with Koji Nakata left and Naoki Matsuda right. They cover diligently and have the ball and passing skills to set off the next attack. Morioka is the general, while Nakata and Matsuda also provide cover for the wings.
The first issue is Morioka's hamstring injury. If he is not fit, Tsuneyasu Miyamoto or Matsuda will take over in the center. That could make room for Hideto Suzuki or Go Oiwa. Toshihiro Hattori can also cover for Koji Nakata.
Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi has the most experience in goal but has hardly played this year. He is a brave and highly athletic keeper, but could yet be displaced by Seigo Narazaki or Hitoshi Sogahata. Both have good all-round ability, control the box well and may have the edge on Kawaguchi on high balls.
Troussier will use two defensive players in central midfield. Hard-tackling Kazuyuki Toda's place is assured, while Junichi Inamoto is first in line to join him. However, his lack of match practice showed in the Poland game.
Options include Tomokazu Myojin on the right, Takashi Fukunishi on either side, and Hiroshi Nanami and Hattori on the left. Teruyoshi Ito, normally a squad regular, is facing a race against time to be fit. Shinji Ono and Hidetoshi Nakata also play in these positions at their clubs, so Troussier has plenty of choice.
The left wing may be the most contested position. Hattori is the main defensive option, while Ono and Alex play more attacking roles, and both have superb dead-ball skills. Shunsuke Nakamura, Nanami and super-sub Masashi Motoyama are also important options. On the right, Yasuhiro Hato will play if the focus is on defense, and Myojin can also play a holding role. Otherwise, Daisuke Ichikawa has recently come into contention as the main attacking winger. Ono and Hidetoshi Nakata could also play here if necessary.
Troussier must also decide on whether to play one striker or two. If two, then either Hidetoshi Nakata or Hiroaki Morishima will work behind the forwards; if one, Nakata and Morishima may both play.
Morishima is a hard runner while Nakata's skill, physique and vision place him in a class above his team-mates, except possibly Ono. Indeed, the Nakata-Ono combination may be Japan's best option. The alternative pairing is Ono and Mitsuo Ogasawara.
The three strikers assured of squad places are Atsushi Yanagisawa, Takayuki Suzuki and Naohiro Takahara. Yanagisawa is a skilful chance maker, Suzuki tough and aggressive, and Takahara powerfully built but with a fine touch. Akinori Nishizawa is an option when Cerezo Osaka teammate Morishima is playing, while Tatsuhiko Kubo can be relied upon to produce the unexpected.
From World Soccer magazine.