Japan's superstar Kazu is dropped from World Cup squad
On June 2, manager Takeshi Okada announced the 3 he had eliminated from the World Cup squad. They are veterans Kazu Miura, Tsuyoshi Kitazawa, and 18 year old Daisuke Ichikawa. So the remaining 22 are going to France. Okada explained that he was surprised how strongly Kazu and Kitazawa, both Kawasaki Verdy players, reacted to his decision. He told them, before the official announcement to the press, to leave Switzerland to avoid chaos. Kazu and Kitazawa returned to Japan on June 5 via Italy, while the young Ichikawa was told to remain with the team since Okada believes there is a future ahead for him.
Michiyo's Note: Many were shocked and even angy to hear that Kazu was ordered to leave. He is the guy who has for long contributed to Japan's soccer boom. He is the charisma of Japanese soccer. He may be even comparable to Brazil's Romario for the Japanese fans. Romario was also dropped from the national squad. I personally was, no doubt, disappointed to learn that Kazu will not be in the World Cup in France. The photo on the right which I took on May 24 may be one of the last games for Kazu and Kitazawa in national team uniforms.

Japanese team leaves for training in Switzerland
Manager Takeshi Okada left Narita Airport for Europe on May 27 with 25 national team players--with their first stop beginning Switzerland and train there before entering France. On May 31, the team played a game against the Mexican players. Japan lost 2 to 1. The press and soccer fans were all shut out from viewing the game. We do know, however, that Naoki Soma was the only one to score a goal for Japan. Then on June 1, those who did not get to play much or at all in the previous game were given a chance to face a Swiss club team. There Kazu's hat trick took the Japanese team to a 3 to 0 victory. His performance was not given a high mark. Members of the Football Association of Japan believe Japan should have completed more goals.

World Cup squad of 25 announced
25 players have been selected on May 7 for the World Cup squad in France. It includes, Kazu Miura, Wagner Lopes, and 17 year-old Daisuke Ichikawa. The members will, however, be narrowed down further.
Position Player
Goalkeeper Nobuyuki Kojima (Bellmare Hiratsuka)
Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi (Yokohama Marinos)
Seigo Narasaki (Yokohama Flugels)
Defense Masami Ihara (Yokohama Marinos)
Norio Omura (Yokohama Marinos)
Yutaka Akita (Kashima Antlers)
Naoki Soma (Kashima Antlers)
Akira Narahashi (Kashima Antlers)
Toshihide Saitoh (Shimizu S-Pulse)
Eisuke Nakanishi (JEF Ichihara)
Toshihiro Hattori (Jubilo Iwata)
Daisuke Ichikawa (Shimizu S-Pulse)
Midfielder Tsuyoshi Kitazawa (Verdy Kawasaki)
Motohiro Yamaguchi(Yokohama Flugels)
Hiroaki Morishima (Cerezo Osaka)
Hiroshi Nanami (Jubilo Iwata)
Takashi Hirano (Nagoya Grampus Eight)
Teruyoshi Itoh (Shimizu S-Pulse)
Hidetoshi Nakata (Bellmare Hiratsuka)
Shinji Ono (Urawa Red Diamonds)
Forward Kazuyoshi Miura (Verdy Kawasaki)
Masashi Nakayama (Jubilo Iwata)
Wagner Lopes (Bellmare Hiratsuka)
Masayuki Okano (Urawa Red Diamonds)
Shoji Jo (Yokohama Marinos)

National team members for Aussie training announced
Manager Takeshi Okada took the very first step to prepare players for Japan's first ever World Cup. He announced on Jan. 16, the 29 players who will train for the national team in Australia from Feb. 8 to 20. New faces are Atsushi Yanagisawa and Tadatoshi Masuda of the Kashima Antlers, Shunsuke Nakamura of the Yokohama Marinos, and Hayato Okanaka of Gamba Osaka.

IN 1997
World Cup grouping finalized
On Dec. 4 in Marseille, France, the draw for the World Cup was conducted. Japan has been placed in group H with other first timers in the worldclass event. They are Jamaica and Croatia. The first game will be tough for Japan, because they have been matched up with 2-time champion Argentine. The grouping nonetheless is giving Japan hope to win at least one game.
Michiyo's Note: Just in case you didn't know, Japan is as of Dec. 1997, ranked number 18 in the world while Argentina is number 19. Surprising, huh!?

World Cup memorial event
Prior to the draw, a special game was held. The European selects played against the World selects. Japan's Hidetoshi Nakata was among the World team together with Brazil's Ronaldo and Argentine's Batistuta. The 20 year old Japanese midfielder not only played the entire 90 minutes, he wore the captain's emblem for 28 minutes, during Ronaldo's absense from the field. The World select overwhelmed the European's 5 to 2.


Japan vs Iran for the 3rd Asian berth to France (Nov. 16 in Malaysia)
Larkin Stadium in Johor Bahru, Malaysia was filled with around 2 million Japanese fans. The game kicked off at 9 pm. Still, it was so humid that the players were immediately drenched with sweat. The thick air didn't seem to bother Japan though. They played so aggressively, that the forwards would pressure even the Iranian goalkeeper. In the 40th minute, the first goal was kicked in by Masashi Nakayama. However, just a minute into the latter half of the game, Iranian forward Khodadad Azizi scored, followed by Ali Daei in the 10th minute. Japan then switched its forwards, Kazu Miura, and Masashi Nakayama for Shoji Jo and Wagner Lopes. This proved successful. Jo headed in a goal in the latter 31st minute for a tie. The game was extended to sudden death. Japan attacked the Iranian goal furiously, but missed the goal. Finally, in the later 14th minute, Masayuki Okano kicked in the ball to end the game. Okano got to play in the World Cup preliminaries for the first time and finished it. Japan has secured a berth to the World Cup for the first time in history!
Michiyo's Note: Japan did it! I'm not only glad that the team can go to the World Cup for the first time ever. It's a great relief as the co-host of the 2002 World Cup that Japan was able to save its face. At any rate, the determination among the players to give all they have was tremendous. I was fascinated by the attitude of the entire team.

Asian Preliminaries Final Round: Group B (Sept. 6 to Nov. 9)
Ranking Country Points
1. South Korea 19
2. Japan 13
3. United Arab Emirated 9
4. Kazakhstan 6
5. Uzbekistan 6

vs. Kazakhstan in Tokyo (Nov.8)
Former national team players have been called to play. They are Masashi "Gon" Nakayama of Jubilo Iwata and Takuya Takagi of Sanfrecce Hiroshima. The reason is to replace forwards, Kazu Miura and Wagner Lopes who were prohibited to play this time, because they were each given their 2nd yellow card in the previous game. Nakayama started the game and made many attempts at the goal. The first to goal was Yutaka Akita of the Kashima Antlers. Then in the 16th minute, Hidetoshi Nakata of Bellmare Hiratsuka followed. "Gon" at last, scored with his head in the 44th minute. In celebration, he showed to the fans what he was wearing underneath his uniform. It was number 11--Kazu's number. Captain Masami Ihara scored in the later half, and veteran Takuya Takagi kicked in Japan's final goal of the game. Kazakhstan could only score once. The 5 to 1 victory has secured Japan's 2nd place in Group B. This means Japan will play runner up of Group A for the 3rd berth of a total 4 available for the Asia Pacific region.

vs. South Korea in Soeul (Nov.1)
Soeul's Olympic Stadium was packed with a crowd of 75,000. Among them there were 15,000 Japanese cheering on the team left with only a slight chance to proceed to the World Cup finals. In the 1st minute, Japan's Hiroshi Nanami kicked in a goal. Then in the 37th minute, Wagnar Lopes pushed the ball into the goal from a short distance. The South Korean side, was not able to score at all, hindered by effective guard of the goal by the handsome Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi. Japan's victory in South Korea is the first since Sept. 1984. The result of the game has surged Japan's possibility to continue its challenge to the World Cup in France. On the other hand, Japan needs some drastic planning to do since Kazu Miura and Lopes will be out of the next game and the final game in Group B, because they have been give their 2nd yellow card each in this game.

vs. United Arab Emirates in Tokyo (Oct.26)
3 minutes into the game, the Japanese side passed the ball wonderously to eachother and finally to Japanese turned Brazilian Wagnar Lopes who kicked in the first goal of the game. It was a great start, but it didn't lead to any more goals for Japan. In the 36th minute, UAE's Hassan Suhail succeeded in relaying a free kick. Japan and UAE both had chances to score from time to time, but could not. The game finished a draw. The 56,089 sell out crowd was dismayed with the result. Some were so furious that they threw raw eggs at Japan's ace striker Kazu Miura's car after the game.

vs. Uzbekistan in Tashkent (Oct.11)
The Japanese team played for the first time under new manager Takeshi Kobayashi. The Uzbekistani team was the first to score. In the 31st minute Bahtiyor Qqmbaraliyev succeeded in shooting the ball from a distance. Japan made many attempts at the Uzbekistani goal. It was only in the last 44th minute of the game that Wagner Lopes headed in a goal. It's Lopes's first goal as a member of Japan's national team. The draw has left a slight possibility for Japan to qualify to the World Cup.

vs. Kazakhstan in Almaty (Oct.4)
Japan was expected to score a number of goals to catch up with the leader, South Korea. In the first 22 minutes Yutaka Akita of the Kashima Antlers successfully headed in a goal. Japan's only goal in this game. Still Japan was about to win it. The clock was already past the end of the game, but there was injury time left. It was at 46 minutes 30 seconds that Kazakhstan's ace striker Viktor Zubarev dribbled the ball into the goal. The game finished a draw. Manager Shu Kamo was fired after this game. Japan has put itself in a tough situation.

vs. South Korea in Tokyo(Sept. 28)
Brazilian born Wagnar Lopes who was granted Japanese nationality just on Sept. 12, made his first appearance as a member of Japan's national team. He played the 2-top position with ace striker Kazu Miura. He was out of the game, before the team scored. Then, 20 minutes into the later half of the game, Motohiro Yamaguchi kicked the ball up, over the South Korean goalie's head, and it landed inside the opponent's goal. The Japanese team was indeed elated. Fans were roaring with joy too. Then Japan's manager Shu Kamo changed a couple of players to defend the lead. However, the Koreans began to take more control of the ball. In the later 38th minute, the Korean side headed in a goal, and shot in another in 41st minute. Japan lost 1 to 2 at home.
Michiyo's Note: The game was such a disappointment to the Japanese public. I suffered a headache for a couple of hours after the defeat.

vs. United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi(Sept. 19)
It was 39 degrees celsius in UAE this day. The Japanese side, unused to playing under such sweltering heat started out rather weakly. The UAE team attacked the Japanese goal from early in the game, but Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi did not allow any goals. The Japanese improved gradually. Then 30 minutes into the later half of the game, Norio Omura of the Yokohama Marinos kicked the ball into the goal, but he was declared off side. Neither side was able to score and the game finished a draw.

vs. Uzbekistan in Tokyo (Sept. 7)
Kazu Miura proved that he is the ace striker of the Japanese team. The spirit of the team was boosted 4 minutes into the game. Japan got the chance for a PK, and Kazu succeeded in kicking the ball beautifully into the goal. In the first half, Japan scored 4 goals, while 54,328 fans cheered on at Tokyo's National Stadium. Then in the later half, Uzbekistan fought back with 3 goals, but in vain. Japan added 2 more to finish the game 6 to 3. Kazu scored 4 goals alone.

Later half of the First Round for Group 4 in the Asian Preliminaries in Tokyo
vs. Oman (June 28)
Japan's first goal was headed in by Hidetoshi Nakata of Bellmare Hiratsuka already 4 minutes into the game. But Japan had a hard time after that. Even worse, Japan lost a goal for the first time in the preliminaries 18 minutes into the later half. The game finished a draw. In any case, Japan will advance to the final round of the Asian qualifier. After the game the host team ran around the stadium ground to thank its fans for their support. However, fans expressed their disappointment with the teams performance.

vs. Nepal (June 25)
It took a while for Japan to score its first goal. Akinori Nishizawa of Cerezo Osaka who scored in the previous game was the first to make the goal It was in the first 44 minutes. In the latter half, Kazu Miura did it again twice this time. His 2nd goal in the game marked his 50th goal in international matches. Although Japan won 3 to 0, the team was booed during the game, because of Japan's repeated failure to get through the Nepal defense.

vs. Macao (June 22)
Japan's ace striker, Kazu Miura, scored 6 goals--more than anybody else in the qualifier so far. He's tied with the all time Japanese record at an international game. The outcome of the game was an overwhelming victory for Japan finishing 10 to 0. Japan has extended its victory in the preliminaries to a perfect 4.

First Round for Group 4 held in Oman
vs. Nepal (Mar.27)
21-year old Shoji Jo of the Yokohama Marinos stepped in to replace Japan's ace striker Kazu Miura in the 3rd game. He played great. Jo was the one to kick in Japan's first goal. That was is the first 23 minutes. Takuya Takagi again scored 3 goals in this game. Japan defeated Nepal 6 to 0. Japan is the leader in Group 4.

vs.Macao (Mar.25)
Japan's goal streak began 13 minutes into the game. Takuya Takagi of Sanfrecce Hiroshima was the first. In all, Japan's goals accummulated to 10. Takagi and Hiroaki Morishima of Cerezo Osaka succeeded in 3 goals each.

vs. Oman (Mar.23)
Japan played its first game against home team Oman on Mar. 23. In the first 10 minutes, Japan's Norio Omura of the Yokohama Marinos kicked in a goal. Oman was believed to be one of the best team in the first round of the preliminaries, so this victory is expected to boost Japan's performance hereafter. Japanese manager Shu Kamo though responded to the victory interview looking disappointed with how the game proceeded.

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