【Five-a-side Football】Saitama City Normalization Cup:Japan Loses to Brazil
The Saitama City Normalization Cup 2017 was held on March 20 at Fut Messe Omiya. The blind soccer Japan team played against the Brazil team, four-time Paralympian champion, in front of a crowd of around 1,200. Entry to the venue was even restricted for part of the game.
A more offensive Japan
Before the game, Japan team coach Satoshi Takada told the players, "Remember to pass the ball. If they take two points, we just take three points. If they take three points, all we have to do is take four points."
During the European tour last year the Japan team made points in every game, even against Asia champion China. The team has been putting more emphasis in its offense since acquiring Takada as coach. This has given the team enough confidence to play against Brazil more aggressively. Whenever they stole a ball, they made sure to pass the ball across the field and increase possession ratio. Whenever they possessed a ball, they used their entire line to play offense as a team. When they lost a ball, they continued to pressure the other team from offensive positions. Akihito Tanaka, who was keeping the goal from behind, sometimes even crossed the halfway line.
Marcos made a powerful goal.
Japan stole the ball multiple times from offensive positions, but it was Brazil's Marcos Alves that scored the first point at seven minutes into the first half. Japan did not let one point pull them back. At 16 minutes their offensive playing bore fruit, when Ryo Kawamura passed the ball from center to Tomonari Kuroda on the right. Kuroda brought the ball to the center, skirting behind the defense of the other team, and kicked the ball with his right foot. The ball shot into the left corner of the goal.
Because Roberto Izumi Sasaki had taken a forward position to the left, the Brazil team's defense was spread out thin on both sides. Once Kuroda cut through one Brazilian player on the right side, there was only one more layer of defense to get through, giving him ample time and space to make the goal. The strategy of staying close to the opponent's goal throughout the game and passing the ball (playing offensively) resulted in this point.
On making the point from the right side, coach Takada revealed this was intentional: "The opponent's right side defense was becoming relaxed, so I told them to attack from the right side."
After Japan caught up to Brazil, the game went back and forth for a while, with both sides making close shots and attacking full force. When Brazil held the ball, Japan's first defender went in to take it back. If the first defender failed, the backup defender was always there. The space opened by the backup was covered by the player on the other side, who would move towards the center to defend both sides. Playing offensively does not mean going forward haphazardly—it is the tangible result of carefully planned strategies and repetitive training to execute those strategies.
However, at 19 minutes, just before the end of the first half, Raimundo Mendes fazed the Japan team with his dribbling and scored a point. In the second half, Kawamura's sharp dribbling scattered Brazil's right on multiple occasions. Yet despite the ideal formation, Japan just could not get a goal.
At 16 minutes into the second half, Mendes took another goal with a counter attack, and at 19 minutes Alves scored again. In the end Japan lost four to one.
The significance of the one point Japan scored
Japan scored one point from Brazil. Players celebrated Kuroda's goal on the field.
How shall we interpret this defeat? Other games in which Japan played against Brazil include a friendly game in 2014, where they lost four to zero, and the Brazilian tour in 2016, where they lost five to zero. The offensive playing this time got Japan one point. This is a solid step forward.
In addition, there is a difference in the way they played. If you divide the field into three zones and call the zone closest to Japan's goal "Zone 3," the center zone "Zone 2," and the one closest to the opponent's goal "Zone 1," the number of times Japanese players touched the ball in Zone 1 (closest to the opponent's goal) increased from 13 in 2014 and nine in 2016 to 24 in this game. The number of times Japan stole a ball in defense increased in all three zones as well. The success of the new offense is clear from these statistics.
After the game, coach Takada said, "Brazil is the team that goes after loose balls more than any other country, but this time Japan took those balls." Accordingly, the percentage of possession after loose balls increased as well.
Despite the defeat, this game showcases the Japan team's new purpose in the sport.
On the other hand, Brazil team coach Jorge Naud Souza said after the game, "At first we were confused by Japan's playing, but we gradually got better at getting into the space of Japan's offense formation." He declared that, "It was easier to play against an aggressive Japan." These words may be true, or it may be a strategy to hold Japan back.
The game was satisfying to a certain extent for the Japanese athletes and coach, but three of Brazil's main players were not present, due to a game in their home country. Japan faces a challenging future if they wish to defeat the world champion at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.
text by Tatsu Ikeda
photo by AFLO SPORT,Asuka Senaga