Why can’t J.League teams perform in Asia?

Gamba Osaka vs. Buriram Result
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2015/03/18/soccer/gamba-draws-buriram-acl/#.VQywEClNXtk

AFC Champions League HP
http://www.the-afc.com/competition/afc-champions-league

Gamba Osaka:

Treble winners Gamba Osaka find themselves on the bottom of Group F with 1 point and 2 matches remaining in the group stage of the AFC Champions League. In order to progress, they need maximum points from both matches and a miracle. Gamba lost their first match to Guangzhou R&F 2-0 after conceding a goal in the 10th minute and 80th minute.  Next, they lost again against Seongnam FC 2-0.  In their last match, they drawer against Buriram 1-1 with Buriram scoring the tying goal in the second half.

Urawa Reds:

The Urawa Reds are also on the bottom of their group table, but they have ZERO points.  They also need 6 points from their last two matches and other teams to slip up for them to advance. In their first fixture, Urawa lost to Suwon 2-1. Urawa took the lead in first half stoppage time, but Suwon came back strong in the second half grabbing a late 87th minute winner. Urawa lost their second match against Brisbane 1-0. Brisbane scored in the 3rd minute and Daisuke Nasu as sent off in the second half. In their next match, they lost against Beijing 2-0; again, collapsing in the latter part the second half giving up 2 goals in the last 15 minutes of the match.

Kashima Antlers:

Kashima Antlers are also on the bottom of their group with ZERO points. They lost their first match against the Western Sydney Wanderers 3-1.  Ironically, Japanese international Yoichiro Takahagi scored the game winning goal late in the second half to seal Western Sydney’s come-from-behind victory. Next, Kashima lost to FC Seoul 1-0. In their last match, Kashima lost a thrilling against Guangzhou Evergrande 4-3.

Kashiwa Reysol:

On the other hand, Kashiwa Reysol are tied with 7 points at the top of the table but are in 2nd place based on goal differential. Kashiwa drew with Jeonbuk nil-nil in their first match. Then, thumbed Binh Duong 5-1, and beat Shandong 2-1 with a 92nd minute winner from defender Naoki Wako.

So, why are J.League teams struggling in the AFC?

To me, the answer is simple: J.League teams lack conviction, guile (gamesmanship), and concentration.

Gamba Osaka, Urawa Reds, and Kashima Antlers have a lot of talent, but why is it that the Kashiwa Reysol are performing better?  An easier group? I don’t think so.  Kashiwa have a reputation of being very gritty and will push to a match to the very end.  To prove this, Kashiwa did get a late winner in their match against Shangdong, which I previously mentioned.

Many of the goals that Gamba, Urawa, and Kashima conceded were early in the first half or late in the second half, which shows a lack of concentration and guile (gamesmanship).

When I mention guile it means gamesmanship.  Gamesmanship is NOT cheating.  Gamesmanship is a strategic usage of questionable actions in order to win a match.  These questionable actions may at times break the rules, but other times they don’t.  Teams from other countries in Asia and throughout the world use gamesmanship to swing the moment of a game for them.  An example of this is substituting a player in stoppage time of the 2nd half to kill time off the clock.  Substituting a player is not against the rules. Another example is holding the ball in the corner of the field to kill time.  Again, this is not agains the rules. On the other hand, players faking to be injured to waste time is a well earned card.  To me, killing time and wasting time are two different concepts. Killing time = within the rules; wasting time = breaking the rules.

The lack of conviction is apparent in the whole of Japanese soccer, including the Japanese National Team. I don’t see fire in players’ eyes when they are one goal down in the last 10 minutes of a match. They all look jaded and lost on the pitch, possibly overwhelmed by the task at hand.  A player who had fire in his eyes was Tulio.  This guy would yell, scream, grab, and at time elbow opponents to drag his team to victory.  Japan needs a player like this!!!

Yuki Abe was also a very gritty player. He was not as ‘dirty’ as Tulio, but Abe did a lot of hard work in the midfield. Also, Keita Suzuki was a battler in the midfield.  He did give a few Chinese players a piece of his mind during the 2008 Asian Cup (from the 3:06 mark in the video):

This video pretty much sums up Japanese soccer even though it is from 7 years ago.  Players getting hacked from behind for the entire match, but little to no reaction.  At the 17 second mark in the video, a Chinese player intentionally runs into GK Seigo Narazaki, but Narazaki just stands there.  I understand that obeying the rulesstaying humble, keeping your cool is culturally aesthetic in Japan, but not protecting yourself and not asserting yourself on the field is not acceptable.  At the 1:24 minute mark, Yasuda gets jump kicked by the Chinese GK, but the Japanese players crowd the center official begging for a red card when I would be in the face of the GK and giving him more than a piece of my mind.  That was an extremely dangerous play worthy of a red card, but if the ref isn’t going to protect you, you have to protect yourself.

Watching the video is pretty irritating because it looks like the Japanese players are content with just drawing fouls and falling to ground.  A number of the scenes are very soft fouls which could be waved off if the play continued, but the Japanese players are soft so they went down.  For example, at 2:44 mark, Kengo Nakamura gets bumped and he goes down relatively easily.  At the 2:55 mark, I think that’s a little reckless, but the Chinese player gets the ball and Hanyu goes over the Chinese player’s front leg, even though the Japanese commentators say it was a scissors slide tackle (the Chinese player’s left leg did come out and look to scissors the player from the camera angle). At the 3:52 mark, Kaji jumps over a slide tackle from a Chinese player and there is little to no contact, but he goes to ground.

Conclusion:

If Japan wants to compete in Asia and on the world stage, they need to be able to assert themselves on the pitch.  All it takes in just one player, like Tulio, to light a fire within each player which then creates a formidable team.  The question is: is there a player like this right now?  The answer: No.

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