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Inamoto Junichi

Inamoto Junichi is one of the most popular soccer players in the history of Japanese soccer. Born in 1979 from Kagoshima Prefecture, Inamoto Junichi made a name for himself through soccer.

In 2002, Japan qualified for the FIFA World Cup. Inamoto Junichi was one of the players in the team, perhaps the best player available there. “Ina” captured the hearts not just of his countrymen but the whole world with his peroxide hair, baby face, and constant hustle and physicality throughout the tournament.

Inamoto’s amazing contribution to Japan’s FIFA World Cup appearance was also evident on paper. He scored two separate goals, helping his country do better than many people had expected. As it turned out during the course of the tournament, “Ina” had good reason to put on an impressive performance as it was leaked to the media that his club future was in jeopardy.

 

Inamoto was able to first make his name famous when he played for Gamba Osaka, a J-league founding team. As early as six, Inamoto was already playing the game. However, he said that he did not go up the ranks immediately as he wanted to hone his game more.

At the age of 13, Inamoto Junichi felt that he was already noteworthy. He joined the Gamba Junior Youth team when he was 13, and was eventually qualified to join the Japanese under-16 national team two years later. With his success in the national games, he was immediately offered a contract to play in the J-league, the most prestigious Japanese football league. At the age of 17, he became the youngest J-League player and eventually the youngest one to score professionally in the country.

Inamoto

With his young age and very visible potential, Inamoto became the first Japanese player to transfer to the English Premier League in 2001 at the age of 21. However, Inamoto made no starts with Arsenal and was only able to play a total of five outings in the Champions League and the Worthington Cup.

After a forgettable but definitely profitable stay in Arsenal, he was picked up by another London Team, Fulham. Inamoto was able to play at Fulham regularly but still, he was not contented with the trust and playing time he got with the team. He became a journeyman in London and eventually went overseas to Turkey in 2006.

Baseball

Baseball

Image from Wikipedia

 

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Japanese Soccer

Soccer is a popular sport all over the world. looking at the top countries or the most popular ones, it can be noticed that it is actually only in America where soccer is not too much of a hit. However, some may argue that soccer is still one of the top sports in the U.S. It is just that it is usually overshadowed by Basketball.

In Japan, soccer is also popular although it is not the top sport. For their case however, it is not basketball that is the one at the top; it is actually baseball and martial arts. But still, soccer in Japan is a top five modern sport.

 

Soccer in Japan is best described by the success of the Japanese football team. Unlike most Asian countries, Japan has qualified in recent FIFA World Cups, the most prestigious and sought after football leagues in the world. Although not being able to qualify for the semi-finals in all their qualifications to the world cup, Japan is still considered as one of the bests in the world. Many attribute Japan’s usual early exits in the world cup because of their size, which definitely makes them an underdog against countries such as Brazil, Spain, and Germany.

The Japanese team is commonly known by the fans and media as Soccer Nippon Daihyō. Although the team does not have an official nickname as such, it is often known by the name of the manager. For example, under Takeshi Okada, the team was known as Okada Japan. However, in the most recent two FIFA World Cups, Japan was regarded already as the Blue Samurais. However, Japanese media still prefer labeling them as Zaccheroni Japan, as Zaccheroni is the name of their manager.

In the most recent FIFA World Cup, Japan was not able to register a win. However, their fight against Ivory Coast was regarded as one of the best battles in the competition. Japan almost garnered an upset against their opponent.

The current head coach of the Japanese National Football Team is Javier Aguirre. Shinji Okazaki, the team’s primary scorer actually owns the most goals of the team. As of October 2014, he was already able to score 40 goals. The team is yet to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. However, they are still expected to enter the prestigious league.

Like baseball, soccer is a modern sport in Japan

Like baseball, soccer is a modern sport in Japan

Image from Google

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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 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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The Women’s National Football Team of Japan

Football, or soccer in some parts of the world, is the single most popular sport across the globe. Interestingly enough, the sport has not quite managed to also reign in the number one spot in Japan in terms of popularity, trailing in second place behind the even locally more popular sport of Baseball. Regardless, Japan has taken a great liking to the sport and is widely considered as one of the top asian teams – for both the male and female sides of the sport.

In Japan, sports are generally a mixed gender affair, as in, both men and women partake in most sports. Of course, there are some sports that women seem to hold very little interest in, including Sumo wrestling among others, but the ones that are popular among the fairer gender do hold serious competitions. Football is one of the sports that the women of Japan have taken a liking to, as evidenced by the success of the Japan Women’s National Football Team.

The team features the very best of Japan’s female soccer players and has history dating all the way back to the 1970s, wherein the country saw an influx of women wanting to play in organized teams. Quickly regional leagues were established and the first Japanese women’s international team was established in 1981 with players selected from some of the regional leagues. Only a few years later in 1986 did the first “All Japan” women’s football team form, spearheaded by their coach Ryohei Suzuki. Unlike the very first version of the team, this one was nationally recognized as having players from all leagues of Japan, and the team made its international debut in a game against Indonesia, coincidentally also suffering its first loss.

Due to the formation of the team and its international acknowledgement, football gained significant momentum throughout the Land of the Rising Sun, especially among the female demographic. A few short years following the formation of the team, the Japan Women’s Football League, or L.League for short, was established as the highest form of national competition for the professional female football players of the nation.

It’s worth noting that Japanese women have been more and more involved in previously male-dominated sports. This is certainly a mark of modernization, with Japanese women no longer seen as simply subservient to men; women have come a long way in Japan, especially since the government apologized and atoned for war atrocities such as the Japan comfort women in the early 1990s.

An interesting point to note is that the Japanese Women’s National Football Team has been more internationally successful than its male counterpart team. The team managed to win the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup held in Germany by defeating the USA Team in a penalty shootout, making the Japanese women the first Asian team to have won a world cup title.

First image by soccer.fakesigi.com

Second image by ilsussidiario.net

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Cerezo Osaka

There are many popular forms of sport played in Japan – and since the Japanese are all about ranking this by popularity (as seen with TV series and manga/anime), they have also ranked their sports and do so on a regular basis. Interestingly enough, association football is not the most popular sport in Japan, despite being the most popular sport across the world by far. In Japan, football has taken foothold as second place behind baseball, trailing behind closely.

 

Highest level football in the Land of the Rising Sun is played in the J. League, specifically its Division 1. One of the teams competing in said division is Cerezo Osaka, which as their name implies, hails from Osaka. Their logo features a pink flower – appropriate, given that Cerezo is also the name of the Flower of Osaka.

The team is 57 years old and plays its sport at a variety of different venues. Most of its home games are played the Nagai Ball Gall Field, with the bigger games such as its derby, being held in the Nagai Stadium instead due to a higher seating capacity.

Historically, Cerezo Osaka’s performance has been somewhat shaky, plagued with a variety of ups and downs. In 1995 the team managed to get promoted into the Division 1, also managing to reach the finals of the prestigious Emperor’s Cup. Six years later in 2001, the team finished last and got relegated to the second division, followed by promotion after only one season in the lower league.

2005 was arguably the most intense year to date as a Cerezo Osaka fan. The team stood in line to win the J. League Division 1 title, playing their last match against F.C. Tokyo, only for Tokyo to equalize in the last minute and force a draw. Given the state of standings at the time, Cerezo Osaka was tied with a variety of other teams for the lead and unfortunately ended up as 5th place due to a bunch of last-minute goals being scored in the final matches around the country.

Since then, the team has been demoted and subsequently promoted a further two times, and most recently managed to draw the prolific Manchester United team to a 2-2 draw in an exhibition match.

Image by wikipedia.org

 

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Omiya Ardija

The J. League Division 1 is the highest attainable level to play football at in Japan. Filled by 18 teams, the league is likely the most exciting one to follow in Asia due to its highly competitive nature and somewhat balanced teams – every team has been relegated at some point as a rule of thumb, not something many other leagues across the globe can say for themselves.

 

Relegation in itself is an interesting thing in Japan – most teams which I have covered have an interesting history of being relegated and promoted on a somewhat regular basis, giving a feeling of every season really being hit-or-miss for Japanese football teams.

 

Omiya Ardija is one of the teams competing in the J. League Division 1 and actually doesn’t have that much of a relegation history. In 2004, ten years ago, the team was promoted from J. League Division 2 into Division 1 and have managed to stay in the division ever since then, a feat not all that many teams can brag about. Previous winners of the league have managed to get themselves relegated only one or two seasons following their success.

The team is based in Omiya-Ku, Saitama. Interestingly enough, The J. League considers all of “Saitama” the team’s hometown, which they share along with Urawa Red Diamonds, another team that competes in their league. Given the geographic sharing of territory, both Omiya Ardija and the Red Diamonds consider each other bitter rivals, with the games between them referred to as the Saitama Derby. The team’s logo features a squirrel, which quickly became their nickname – the Omiya Squirrels. They play their home games in the Nack5 Stadium Omiya, which is definitely one of the smaller ones around, capable of only housing around 15,000 spectators.

In the previous (2013) season, the club finished at an overall 13th place, which isn’t the relegation zone yet, but getting close to it. Whether the team remains as one of the longest non-relegated teams is yet to be determined, but if there is one thing for sure is that their course throughout the J. League 1 is one of the most entertaining to watch.

 

Image by soccerway.com

 

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Vissel Kobe

An interesting fact about Japanese culture is that, in fact, football has not managed to rise to become the most popular sport of the nation. That spot is firmly held by the american sport of baseball, relegating football to a close second in terms of overall popularity. Football in Japan is played at the highest level in the J. League’s Division 1, which is made up of the 18 best teams in the country.

One of the 18 competing teams is Vissel Kobe. The team hails from Kobe, located in the Hyogo Prefecture, where they play their home games at either the Kobe Wing Stadium or the Kobe Universiade Memorial Stadium.

The club has a fairly long history, going all the way back to 1966 when the club was known as Kawasaki Steel Soccer Club, which competed in semi-professional leagues and tournaments. In 1986 it rose through the ranks to make it into the J. League Division 2, where it stayed and accumulated competitive experience until making it into the Division 1 in 1997. Prior to that, the club reached an agreement with the city of Kobe, representing each other in the goal of entering the highest professional league. Therein lies the namesake of the club’s moniker, the term “Vissel” being a combination of the words “victory” and “vessel,” a somewhat obvious nod to Kobe city’s significant history as being a port city.

In 2004 when the team was acquired by Crimson Group, whose president is a native from the city of Kobe. Under his management the team started its decline due to rather questionable decisions which were met with much dissatisfaction of fans, including the changing of the team’s base colors as well as signing weak foreign talent.

This led to a poor finish in the league during 2005, resulting in relegation, back to the second division. It took them two years to fight their way out of the second division, a time wherein the management changed head coach six times, a clear sign of desperation. It took until the end of 2006 season for the team to get a shot at qualifying again for the first division, which they did successfully. Following this was a period of 4 seasons, all wherein Vissel Kobe finished in the bottom half of the table. In 2012, the team managed to get relegated once again after another 16th place loss.

Last year, the team managed to finish 3rd place in the second division once more, qualifying them for another attempt in the first division in the 2014 season, giving fans hope once more that the team may amount to something worth being a fan of.

First image by 99sportslogos.com

Second image by vissel-kobe.co.jp

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Ventforet Kofu

Football, or soccer, is the single most popular sport on the face of this planet. However in Land of the Rising Sun, the otherwise popular sport has only managed to take hold over the title as the second most popular sport played in the nation as Japan has taken an even greater liking to the American bat-sport, Baseball.

Regardless, football does have its place among the Japanese and is taken very seriously, so seriously in fact that the Japanese compete at the highest possible international levels and have nationally formed their own leagues. The highest level of soccer in Japan is played in the J-League Divsion 1.

The Ventforet Kofu, is one of the teams competing in the J-League’s premier division, originating in Kofu, located in central Japan, representing it similarly to how many sports teams represent different parts of a nation in other forms of sport. An interesting fact to note is that Kofu is considered a “Special City,” meaning it has a population right around the 200,000 mark and is delegated a subset of the functions of a major city.

The name of the team is quite obviously derived from the French language and has a bit of history to it. The terms the name is made up of are “Vent” and “Foret” which mean “wind” and “forest” respectively. The inspiration behind the club’s name comes from a famous ruler of the area by the name of Shingen Takeda of the Sengoku period. In his time he often had the phrase Fū-rin-ka-zan painted on his banners, which is interpreted as “Swift as the Wind, Silent as a Forest, Fierce as Fire and Immovable as a Mountain.” This phrase represents the values the team tries to embody in their competitive play.

Unfortunately, the Ventforet Kofu aren’t always quite capable of upholding their values. Since joining the J. League Division 2 in 1999 when it was formed, the team has always been in-between the first and second leagues, normally at the top of the first and the bottom of the second. A particularly rough time came right after joining the J. League, until the year of 2001 – in these 2 short years, the team managed to incur a 25 game loss-streak as well as financial difficulties. In the following years, they managed to both get promoted to the first league as well as relegated to the second league numerous times.

First image by nippon-ganbare.com

Second image by sidomi.com

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Kashima Antlers

Japan, like many other Asian nations nowadays, is predominantly ruled by western sports in the active lifestyle department. Despite football being the single most popular sport across the planet, it has only managed to reach the number two spot in the Land of the Rising Sun. Regardless, the sport is widely popular and Japan has even managed to make waves in the international scene of the sport, strongly representing its geographical location. Locally, the highest level of football is played in the J. League Division 1, consisting of 18 teams – a system very similar to the way the famous English Premier League and German Bundesliga are structured.

One of the teams in the J. League’s first division is the Kashima Antlers. A somewhat amusing name, a bit of a play on words by its founders. The term “Kashima” is the name of a city, a port city in the Ibaraki Prefecture, and translates to “deer island” in English, making the club’s moniker of Antlers quite apt. Outside of Kashima, the Antlers also represent the rest of the Ibaraki Prefecture, including the towns and cities of Itako, Kamisu and Hasaki.

Despite the Ibaraki Prefecture being somewhat small and generally only known for its importance in the shipping industry, its football team is one of the most successful teams to ever compete in the J. League Division 1. Ever since the club’s participation in the highest level of Japanese national football, the team has managed to win the league title a whooping seven times, finishing an average of 3rd place across the board. On top of that come a record of winning the Emperor’s Cup four times as well as the J. League Cup another five teams, resulting in an unprecedented 16 titles on the national level. This figure becomes even more impressive when one considers that it has only been roughly 20 years since the club’s entry into the level of professional football, a feat not many other teams can boast about.

The club’s roots go all the way back to 1947, when it was founded by a metal-working company in the city of Osaka. The team didn’t become successful until the very late 80s and early 90s, when it finally managed to rise to the top of the J. League’s second division and eventually broke into the first division. Under new management and sponsorship, the team rapidly shaped up to take the Japanese football world by storm, and continues doing so every season they participate in.

First image by hdlogo.wordpress.com

Second image by seethecup.com