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Pre-World Cup friendlies: Germany-Japan, England-Hungary May 31, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Football, World Cup.

Germany 2 – Japan 2

Watched this one which was broadcast starting at 4:30pm (kick off was an hour earlier, but the match was timeshifted and a (voluntary) media blackout imposed on reporting the result as is customary in the clubby world of Japanese media. However the other TV channels ignored protocol and were talking about the result and how you didn't need to switch channels because you already know the result…. But most of the major internet sites seemed to follow protocol.)

Germany came back from two goals behind to salvage a draw. Japan went 2-0 ahead, 2 well taken goals from Takahara (HSV Hamburg moving to Frankfurt from next season). Plenty of chances for Japan to score a few more goals. For Germany, the centre-backs' performances will be a worry. Ballack also did not seem to be playing anywhere near his best. German's delivery of corners was shockingly poor. They had a bunch of corners and I can't recall seeing one decent delivery. Given their aerial and physical superiority, they really have to make corners count a bit more. Most of the balls too low and were cleared with ease by defenders at the near post.

For Japan, the 2 goals were taken well by Takahara, with Nakamura being involved in both moves. Apart from that, Nakamura did not feature very much, he should have been playing as the attacking midfielder behind the front two, but he often appeared further back. Without going back and looking to see how he was being marked by Germany, I can't say whether his lack of visibility was due to German marking or due to Hidetoshi Nakata, who was allegedly positioned as a holding midfielder, who was getting up the pitch at every opportunity, was squeezing Nakamura out of the game. Holding midfielders do need forward at times to bolster the attack but Nakata appeared to be getting forward a bit too much, at the expense of Nakamura. Having said that, Nakata was involved in some good attacking moves, and slotted through a couple of excellent passes. It is no secret that Nakata's preferred position is the coveted attacking midfield spot occupied at this time by Nakamura. Nakata's positioning remains a big worry as Japan's main strength is their ability to keep their shape and formation, and attack and defend as a unit.

The 2 goals Japan conceded are symptomatic of Japan's biggest weakness, which is their lack of physical presence. In open play, team defence can work pretty well, as long as the team keeps its shape. However, at set pieces, whilst organisation remains important (players should know who is marking who), the strength, speed and vision of the individuals going for the ball becomes more of a factor.

For Germany's first goal, a free kick curled in to the area from the left wing, Klose seemed to have been marked by Miyamoto, possibly the shortest centre-back in the world. Klose's superior strength saw Miyamoto going to ground. Miyamoto is a big uncertainty especially playing against big physical strikers the likes of which will be fielded by Australia and Croatia. He isn't particularly quick either, and his lack of height means he isn't particularly strong in the air either. If Japan play a 3-5-2 formation as they did today, I would expect opposing teams to take on one of the two other defenders (Tsuboi, Nakazawa, both who are taller and stronger in the air), pull them out wide and get their forwards matching up against Miyamoto. I don't see how you can play the modern game with a central defender who is like, 5'9" (and I suspect that is generous).

The 2nd German goal was due to Yanagisawa apparently marking an invisible man in the area. Schweinsteiger
rose to head home an inviting free kick curled in from the right, and had a virtual free header. Schweinsteiger timed his run to get in front of Yanagisawa who didn't even appear to make an attempt to get up to the ball, who got in the way of Fukunishi who tried to get up and got tangled up with Yanagisawa. 2-2.

For Japan, stand-outs were Takahara who scored the 2 Japanese goals, Fukunishi who battled well in the holding midfielder's role, and Komano, who troubled Germany down the right wing.

Komano came on as a substitute for Kaji, who fell awkwardly when he was fouled by Scweinsteiger. Looking at replays, he seemed to catch his toe on the turf when fall forwards, and appeared to be in pain. He left the stadium on crutches. If it is does transpire that has a medial ankle sprain, he may be out of the World Cup. In that case, I'd call for Daisuke Matsui to be called up to the squad, as he, like Komano, can play on either wing.

England 3 – Hungary 1

Not having seen the match but having read the match reports, I think Eriksson's strategy of playing Carragher as a holding midfielder is a good move. Playing the 4-4-2, there has been continous debate about what England's midfield should look like, whether it made sense to play Lampard and Gerrard together, etc etc.

Whilst the English midfield is full of talent, there was no recognised world class defensive midfielder, someone like Chelsea's Makelele. Putting Carragher, a defender, in that position allows the team to shape up with two central midfielders, one who is deadly with long range passes and free kicks, another who can do that and also run and score in free play and also get back to defend. [Having said that, Carragher was switched to right-back at half time, with Hargreaves coming on to play the holding role (as he does at his club), whether that had anything to do with the fact that England scored 3 times in the second half is something I will look at when I watch the game. Carragher may be too defensively minded to be a fully fledged roaming holding player]

Giving Gerrard a chance to play off the forwards and run at defenders and take shots at goals from distance makes sense. (Otherwise, Eriksson in effect gives Gerrard the bulk of the defensive duties when lining him up with Lampard in the middle of the pitch, which he has done reasonably well because he is so versatile, but clearly it is stifling Gerrard's style) Given the form Gerrard is in, he makes perfect sense at the tip of the diamond. Gerrard and Lampard are interchangeable, so that would allow them to mix things up a bit. This fore and aft relationship makes a lot more sense than sitting these two side by side. With Gerrard or Lampard playing off the front two, loose balls around the attacking penalty area will be punished. (Now "all" we need to do is to work out how to handle defensive duties midfield

Whilst hardly pretty, this would give England the option of playing Crouch (probably as sub) up front, pumping the ball forward and running in on the loose ball, as Gerrard did so effectively for Liverpool in the Cup Final. However, I think even in the absence of Rooney, England should be playing 2 forwards, in either a 4-4-2 or a 4-1-3-2 and not 4-1-4-1 especially with Owen still to prove hehas regained full fitness and form.

Hopefully Rooney will also make the World Cup, then England will have a decent crack at the top spot.
Note: I am a 20+ year Liverpool fan so that my World Cup coverage will heavily feature England and especially their Liverpool players (and ex-Liverpool player Owen) if they play well.


1. Kurt - June 1, 2006

I don’t think there’s a chance in hell Rooney plays, but….

I only stayed up for the first 15 min. of the Japan game (had no idea kickoff was actually an hour earlier, bastards), but was surprised at how improved Japan was, really giving the German side a run for their money (nakata nearly scoring through lehman’s legs, etc.). granted it was a friendly and warmup and all that, and Ballack is still not at full strenth (some were surprised he was starting). indeed size is a big problem, but the other thing the two late german goals point up is their tendency to go “amai’ in the latter half of the game, due to conditioning or what I don’t know…..

2. fukumimi - June 1, 2006

Re: Rooney, we can but hope….

Germany are struggling, but they were trying out a new formation, and Ballack was way below par. Their main problem is defense, I think.

I think Japan has a concentration problem. I think you’ll find they often leak goals at the beginning and end of halves.

I continue to find commercial stations’ commentary – if you can even call it that (TV Asahi this time) extremely annoying. I miss the more balanced commentary of the better British football commentators (ie excluding some of the crap that passes for commentary on Sky). Indeed, it is a problem with sports commentary on Japanese commercial stations in general. F1 commentary is terrible.

I can’t recall how many times the commentator reminded us how Germany have won the World Cup several times, hyping up how Japan was playing so well against such a strong team. The media hypes Japan’s FIFA rankings (currently 18th) as an indicator of the team’s strength when it suits, but I note how absent comparison of the respective rankings (18th vs 19th for Germany) was during the match.

3. Kurt - June 1, 2006

yes, the Japanese commentary is rather attrocious, as is the way the networks feel compelled to package their shows with various talent that have nothing to do with the sport…..i can already see the cutaways as the first half whistle blows on Japan vs. australia or whatever to Noriko Fujiwara or Shingo SMAP what’s his name with their 苦しい’s or 頑張れ日本’s (and really, is their anything more gauche than having “gambare nihon” text permanently in the upper right corner of the broadcast?)….and if I hear a single “絶対負けられないI’m going to puke! fortunately most of the games are on NHK, not much better but hopefully without the crass commercialism and homerism of the others…(let’s cross our fingers for BBC folks on the SAP)

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