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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.

Image by pickle92.wordpress.com

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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

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Orix Buffaloes

The Orix Buffaloes are one of the older teams that compete today in the highest level of baseball in the country wherein baseball is one of the most important forms of sport. Japan is the country which loves baseball the most, reflected in the statistics which indicate that the American ball and bat sport has been firmly cemented as the most popular sport in the Land of the Rising Sun.

 

Baseball in Japan is serious business and is played at the highest level in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, segmented into a Pacific and Central league, separated depending on the home location of each team, which will then battle it out to find the All Japan champion.

Interestingly enough, the Orix Buffaloes aren’t like many other teams, which are noteworthy for their extraordinary performances and repeat wins of titles – quite the contrary, as the Buffaloes are more known for the ability to lose instead of win. Founded in 1950, the team has managed to set one of the most single impressive achievements in professional baseball, in the form of 103 consecutive losses between 1950 and 1968. Given the average length of the NPB pro league, this streak would have spanned several years before being broken. Due to the team’s lack of success, the team has been struggling to maintain a solid fanbase, making its life all the less useful. Attendance was at an all time low just prior to the millenia.

Unlike some other baseball teams, the Orix Buffaloes also struggle financially. One of the most shown examples in regards to this is the fact that that the Buffaloes is also known to be stingy with their money and subsequently overworking players, resulting in frequent roster swaps and other teams offering more money to the Buffaloes’ rising stars, leading them to leave the club in pursuit of money.

Orix Buffaloes managed to overcome their financial difficulties when they actually took the name of Orix, signifying the merger with the company as the team had priory been owned by  BlueWave. However, the team still suffers in points and the team’s home court only accommodates up to a small amount of players.

Image by behance.net

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Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters

The Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters have one of most amusing names in the world of professional baseball. They compete in the Pacific League, which is makes up half of the Nippon Professional Baseball league along with the Central League. The team hails from Hokkaido, Sapporo, where they also play most of their home games in the Sapporo Dome stadium. Some of their home games they host in different stadiums across Hokkaido in order to offer fans living in different parts of the prefecture a chance to see them in action.

“Nippon Ham” is the name of the team’s major owner, one of the largest food processing companies in Japan, something fans of opposing teams like to joke about as it is a rather peculiar name for pro baseball team.

Aside from that, the Fighters are one of the oldest teams around, established in 1946 in Tokyo, right after World War II saw its violent end. Since its establishment, the Fighters have won the Japan Series two times, once in 1962 and once in 2006, which is a significant amount of time in between wins. One of the few teams that has taken even longer to repeat a victory of the kind are the Chunichi Dragons, which took over 50 years to reclaim the title.

The Fighters name might be quite appropriate for the team however. The team is not unused to struggle and overcoming difficulties, facing difficulties  In the mid 90s, the team was consistently scarping the bottom of the ladders, despite putting out some great domestic talents, which would leave the club as soon as they got a better offer from a competitor. In the early 2000s, the team faced struggles to fill stands due to changes in rosters, management and general lack of success. It wasn’t until the Fighters picked up a rising star pitcher. Coupled with intelligent marketing and promotions, including dirt cheap tickets and beer, creating a significant rise in popularity. In 2005, the fighters managed to break the 1 million mark of ticket sales, becoming a major name in people’s minds again.

Currently, the Fighters have two of their players competing in the mecca of baseball, the MLB in the United States. The team is currently managed by Hideki Kuriyama

Image by ootpdevelopments.com

 

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Tokyo Yakult Swallows

When one thinks of Yakult, one generally has the picture of one of those small bottled, milk-based, healthy products in mind. Rightfully so, as the drink is extremely popular across the world for its relatively cheap price and high level of health benefits if consumed regularly. If one lives outside Japan, the association between Yakult and Baseball is likely to be non-existent – rightfully so, as the Tokyo Yakult Swallows are probably the single most overlooked baseball team in the Land of the Rising Sun… and the land where Baseball is the single most popular sport.

Baseball in Japan is played at its highest level nationally in the Central League, which along with its counterpart, the Pacific League, make up Nippon Professional Baseball. The Tokyo Yakult Swallows are part of the Central League and compete against five other teams for the title. Should they win enough games to be the champion of the Central League, they’d get the opportunity to play against the winning team of the Pacific League for the title of All-Japan Baseball champion.

The team’s history is rather extensive, being established in 1950. Over the decades the team’s ownership changed twice, initially being owned by Kokutetsu, the Japanese Railway Corporation. Following that the team was sold to a newspaper firm, the Sankei Shimbun until Yakult finally acquired the team in the 1970s.

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows can be considered as one of the most overlooked teams in the world of professional Japanese baseball simply due to the fact that they consistently have to endure standing in the shadow of their rivals who happen to hail from the same city – the Yomiuri Giants, which attract a huge following. Tokyo is a large city of many sights and areas, as such is also big enough to have more than one team to compete at the highest level. The Swallows do have their own dedicated fanbase, however, it pales in comparison to the size of the Giants supporters. Unfortunately, this also results in not all of the Swallows games being televised, until they either play against the Giants, who televise all their matches, or until they play at their home-stadium, the Meiji-Jingu Stadium.

The home stadium of the Swallows is the second oldest ballpark still in use in Japan, its construction dating back to the 1926 – one of the very few to have survived the Second World War. This is another reason the Swallows are considered perpetual underdogs, always on the back burner due to financial difficulties and not being able to outbid the richer teams, forcing the team to become innovative in its talent acquisition. Regardless, they still manage to win games and enjoy what they do.

First image by ootpdevelopments.com

Second image by simcentral.com