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Tokyo Yomiuri Giants

There are twelve teams in Japan that compete in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, its two sub-leagues to be exact. All twelve teams have their individual histories and backgrounds, fanbases and triumphs as well as defeats. The oldest, and most popular team in the league, are the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants. Established in 1936, the Giants are the most publically examined and exposed team, which makes the team a dream for many up and coming players to strive and one day play for.

With size and a large fanbase come many resources at the disposal of the team and it shows – of all the teams that are currently competing (or have formerly competed) in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, the Giants have netted by far the most trophies and pennants over the years, especially in the Japan Series, which determines the overall winner of the NPB league as the winners of both the Central and Pacific leagues face off in order to determine the best team in Japan.

 

However, despite being the most successful team in the league, the Giants are far from flawless. One of the pitfalls the team has found itself in regularly is the mistake of giving out too many expensive contracts to too many players which often turned out to be paid far more than they were actually worth in terms of actually achieving results. However, this has allowed the Giants to be a dominant force during the annual amateur draft phase when teams are allowed to acquire new talent, normally rising from colleges of high schools.

 

One benefit the team gains from its widespread resources is the fact that all its games are nationally televised, a feat no other team can claim. Media outlets have to partner with teams individually instead of the league as whole, however not all media partners, or all teams, have the capacity to air all their games. Their games are also covered by three major newspapers, adding more exposure, especially in the Tokyo region and its surrounding areas. Unfortunately, the current line up of the Giants is not as strong as its predecessors, as the team has a lot of young talent but appears to lack coordination.

Image by highlife.ba.com

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Foreign Footballers in Japan

Japan has a strong football culture. Not a surprise, given that it is the second most popular sport in the country, lagging behind only baseball in terms of overall popularity. The highest level of local football is played in the J. League Division 1 which is comprised of 18 different teams competing to be the best and qualify for the Asian Champions league tournament.

Across Asia, Japan is generally considered the strongest football nation, recently also having been crowned the champions of Asia with a dominating performance in the tournament. One point of interest, however, is that the J. League Division 1 is somewhat limited in its number of foreign players. Across many other leagues, especially European ones, transfers between teams of different leagues are very common, with the top leagues (especially Bundeslida, La Liga 1, Serie A, etc.) consistently moving players around in the transfer windows.

Japan’s top 18 teams have around a total of 65 foreign players in their clubs, which compared to some other leagues, is not much. Most teams have around 3 foreigners, with some opting to have up to 5, and others having just one or two. Of those foreigners, a vast majority stem from the country of the “beautiful game” – Brazil itself. The reason for this is that Japan does not have the ability to easily trade players from other leagues – mainly because most other top competitive leagues are far away. Very few European players opt to go to Japan, regardless of what they’re offered. This has both advantages and disadvantages. The obvious advantage is that a lot of local Japanese talent has the opportunities to go pro and develop as players. The downside is that the level of development in the competition itself is stunted – which can be dangerous as the Japanese will have a harder time competing internationally. In order for the league to grow as a whole and as a business, foreign innovation and competition is needed inside Japan. The reason Japan is attractive to Brazilian players is first of all the living conditions. There are definite benefits to going abroad, including higher pay and such, and here Japan can easily compete with a lot of the middle level Brazilian teams, whereas they couldn’t hope to poach a player from a top European team due to monetary reasons alone. Inclusion of foreigners in Japanese football also has benefits as it may highlight prevalent social issues, such as Japanese comfort women.

 

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Japan vs Greece 2014

Japan were the reigning champions of Asia coming into the world cup and generally considered this part of the world’s best shot at creating some major upsets in the generally European dominated world of football (or soccer as some would prefer). Japan’s group looked like a well balanced, yet undecided one – Japan, Greece, Ivory Coast and Colombia made up Group C in the 2014 Fifa World Cup.

 

Japan’s first match went against the Ivory Coast, which the southeast Asian team unfortunately lost after conceding two quick goals around the 60 minute mark, despite Japan’s star midfielder, Honda, scoring a screamer of a goal in the first 20 minutes of the fixture. Prior to this match, Greece and Japan had only met once on the field of international football, all the way back in 2005. The teams played each other in the Confederation’s Cup with Japan winning following a 1-0 lead.

Greece's Giorgios Samaras gets his head to the ball but can't direct it on target.

A lot was on the line in this match as a win for either team could keep their World Cup dreams alive, with a loss making progression out of the group stages dependent on the results of the other teams’ games. The game would eventually end in a 0-0 draw, but what a dramatic 0-0 it would be in the end.

The captain of the Greek squad managed to net himself a red card following two bookable offenses, resulting in the Greek team having to face the Japanese with 10 men only. Such a weakness is often the immediate cause of a loss as the full team can now take advantage of bigger spaces and gaps in the defense. As the red card had been handed out before the halftime break, analysts and experts were confident in Japan’s ability to take advantage of the shaken Greece squad and secure themselves a win.

And boy, did the Japan squad try. On several occasions the team found itself mere inches away from scoring that one crucial goal with the European team on the back burner, focusing more on defense in an attempt to draw it to a stalemate. There were some moments of good aggressive football on both sides, but to no avail. The draw left Japan with one loss and one draw, with the strongest opponent, Colombia, still ahead of them. A win against Colombia and Ivory Coast losing to Greece would have been needed for them to move out of the group phase.

Image by theguardian.com

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Japan vs Colombia 2014

The Japanese Men’s football team came into the 2014 FIFA World Cup as the Asian champions, slanted to be the favorites for the region to cause some major upsets in a world of football mainly dominated by European and South American teams. They were pinned as the best team from Asia with the right players and potential to make it into the quarter finals, perhaps even further than that.

However, the team’s group proved to be no slouch of a group – Greece, Ivory Coast and Colombia all posed as the team’s immediate opponents. Losing in a devastating comeback by Ivory Coast resulting in a 1-2 score line followed by a 0-0 draw against Greece, Japan went into their final match of the group stages against Colombia well aware of what was at stake. A win was desperately needed along with the slim chance of Greece nabbing a win away from the Ivory Coast for the Japanese to force a tiebreaker for the second spot in the group with Colombia well secured in first place.

Much pressure was on for Japan’s strong midfield as that would be the main field of contention between the two teams. The game started at a quick pace and pressure mounted – and it showed. Minute 17 and the Samurais committed a crucial error. A foul inside the penalty box and the penalty was given – easily converted by Cuadrado. The Asians remained composed and fought back, which paid off just before halftime with a cheeky goal by Okazaki to even the score out.

The Colombians were far from finished however – drawing strength from their large crowd of fans, the South Americans stepped up the pace significantly, dominating the midfield and creating intense amount of pressure on Japan’s backline. It only took them 10 minutes into the second half to score, putting Japan behind by one. The Japanese prevailed, but to little avail – 8 minutes from the end, Jackson scored his second, making the score 1-3 in Colombia’s favour. While 8 minutes in football is a long time, it generally isn’t enough to score two. To seal the deal and kick the wounded team some more, the Colombian team managed a fourth goal in the closing minute of injury time, crushing Japan 1-4.

Image by telegraph.co.uk

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Japan v Ivory Coast (WC 2014)

The Japanese National Men’s Football team was hailed as one of the strongest in the Asia-Pacific region that would be heading to the 2014 FIFA World Cup playoffs held in Brazil. From interviews, both teams and their respective coaches were rather confident coming into the match. Japan was the champion of Asia and first team overall to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Prior to this game, the two teams had only met a total of 3 times prior. In their head to head record, the Japanese were actually ahead with a total of 2 wins and 1 loss. The most recent match between the two had been in June of 2010 with Ivory Coast snagging a 0-2 win.

The game was a tense one – and that tension was broken soon into the first half by none other than Keisuke Honda, one of the star midfielders playing for AC Milan in Italy’s Serie A. A marvelously quick one-two play allowed Honda to quickly break through the center left of Ivory Coast’s backline, setting himself up for a shot off his left foot, slamming the ball into the upper left corner from the 18 yard area, stunning the Ivory Coast “Elephants” and relieving a lot of the pressure on the Japanese team.

However, the match was far from over. The second half of the game came and so did the substitution of Didier Drogba, unarguably one of the best strikers in the world for the past 5 years and Ivory Coast’s superstar. It wasn’t until the middle of the second half when tragedy struck. Minute 64 was the equalizing goal and it had been predictable – ever since the second half started, Japan had steadily been losing possession of the ball and the pressure was back on. The equalizing goal shattered the team’s confidence and it showed as two minutes later, in the 66th minute, their opponents netted another goal. Following this, the team could not recover and Ivory Coast walked away with a win that should have at best been a draw, a certain blow to the composure of the southeast Asian team.

 

Image by bleachreport.com

 

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Yokohama Baystars

In the past few times, I’ve gone over the prominent professional baseball teams in Japan, I’ve mainly covered the teams that compete in the Pacific League of the Nippon Professional Baseball league, with the occasional Central League team here and there. One of the teams I have not covered are the Yokohama BayStars, one of the well-known names among the fans of the sport.

The BayStars have a long history as a professional team that dates back to the foundation of the sport in Japan, all the way back in 1950 when Japan redefined itself as a culture following the devastations of the second World War. Prior to that, the team had already existed as Taiyo Fishing Company, competing in amatheur tournaments and showing up to national-level competitions around the 1930s. The name BayStars would not come about until the early 90s.

It wasn’t until the late 70s that the team started seeing success, managing their highest ever placement in the league in 1979 when they managed to place second behind the Hiroshima Carps.

Four decades after joining the Central League, the BayStars finally got their first league victory in 1998. It had been their first major feat and the team’s future looked bright with many analysts claiming them to be a contender for back to back victories in the coming years – only to fall short in the following season with a 3rd place finish.

The team, as the name suggests, hails from Yokohama, the second largest city in the Land of the Rising Sun after Tokyo. The team has been playing in the Yokohama Stadium since 1978, which offers one of the most scenic locations in the sport as it is just a few blocks away from the Yokohama bay. Fans love watching the team play in their home stadium because there is much to do around it, including many shopping and food locations which make a baseball filled weekend much more satisfying and can be a nice consolation prize if the team loses. The stadium has recent undergone some renovations to bring it up to modern standards and make it a more enjoyable and scenic experience for viewers and players alike.

Image by japanball.com

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Japan at the 2011 AFC Tournament

The biggest event in the world of Football is none other than the FIFA World Cup, held every 4 years. Everyone in the industry is aware of the next year it’s held – and adjusts accordingly. Most other major football tournaments that aren’t held annually are held in the 4 year gap between the world cups.

One major event that does this is the AFC Asian Cup organized by the Asian Football Confederation. It is the biggest football event exclusive to the Asia and its surrounding Pacific region and its championship is heavily contested. One of the teams that has a special interest in the cup is Japan – and for good reason too, as they are the most successful team in the cup’s history.

16 teams compete in this tournament every 4 years, traditionally held one year following the World Cup. The 2011 AFC Asian Cup, hosted by Qatar, saw Japan net their 4th championship following a fierce tournament. Managing to only place 4th in the 2007 tournament, the Japanese were hungry to prove once more that they were the best the Asia-Pacific region has to offer. Seeded into Group B alongside Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia, the Japanese were considered the favorites to progress to the knockout rounds alongside Jordan, both teams having a stellar track record at the tournament, with Japan tied for most successful team alongside Iran at the time, both at 3 AFC wins respectively.

Japan put on a spectacular show, managing a 2-1 win over Syria with their only goal conceded via penalty. They drew against Jordan and went on to decimate Saudi Arabia, winning with a very convincing 5-0 performance.

Japan’s first opponent of the knockout stage would be the hosts, Qatar. An intense match followed, with Japan snagging a win away from the middle eastern team, winning 3-2. The semi-finals were up next and Japan were against long-time rivals, South Korea. The match went into extra time and ended with a penalty shootout which Japan won 3-0, a rare occurrence in professional football.

The finals pitted the Blue Samurais against Australia, another dominant team of the southeast Asia region. A single goal by Japan’s Tadanari Lee in extra time put the Asian team ahead, securing their 4th AFC Asian Cup win.

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Japan at the 2007 Asian Cup

The AFC Asian Cup, hosted by the Asian Football Confederation, is the largest and most significant football event in Asia outside of the World Cup. Similar to FIFA’s World Cup, the AFC Cup is held every 4 years, traditionally one year after the World Cup concludes. The most recent AFC cup was held in 2011 with Japan coming out triumphant in the city of Qatar, with the next one being held in Australia, the runner ups of the 2011 championship.

Japan has a special stake in the cup, since it has become the single most successful team in the competition since its beginnings back in 1956. Winning in 1992, 2000, 2004 prior to the 2007 championship, Japan were slated as clear favorites going into the tournament as the defending champions.

Interestingly enough, this particular event was hosted by 4 nations over its duration – Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam were all part of the host nations, forcing the Japanese team to acclimate to different environments and cultures as they progressed through the tournament.

The favorites from the Land of the Rising Sun came in seeded into group B. The competitors inside the group were Japan themselves, host nation Vietnam, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. A fairly well balanced group, yet Japan was clearly the strongest of the four, with Vietnam speculated to be the second behind Japan.

The group stage went about as expected. Japan played its first game against Qatar in what was assumed to be an easy victory yet ended with a 1-1 draw. Undeterred, the Japanese team went on to beat the United Arab Emirates in a solid 3-1 showing, followed up with a very convincing 4-1 crushing performance against Vietnam.

Following this relatively easy group stage, Japan found themselves in the quarter finals versus Australia, resulting in a penalty shootout after a goalless match. Japan pulled ahead with a 4-3 shootout, proceeding to face Saudi Arabia in the semi-finals. Here, the team would meet its match and lose in a close 2-3 deficit, ending their run in the tournament. In an attempt at bringing something worthwhile home from the tournament, Japan faced South Korea in the match for third place, only to lose in another penalty shootout 5-6.

Image by soccergaming.com