Samurai Blue handed Judi Onlain tough draw in South Africa
Japan coach Takeshi Okada reacted calmly to his nation’s World Cup draw, after the Samurai Blue were drawn in Group E alongside the Netherlands, Denmark and Cameroon.
Having claimed that Japan are aiming for a Judi Onlain semi-finals berth in South Africa, the Asian powerhouses must first negotiate a tough group that includes Bert van Marwijk’s highly-fancied Dutch side.
The Netherlands beat Japan 3-0 when the two sides met in a friendly in Enschede in September, and Okada’s men will need to find a way of dealing with not one, but two European opponents in South Africa.
Denmark will likewise provide a stern test for the Japanese, while Cameroon will be eager to impress on African soil.
Despite the tough draw, Okada was optimistic about his side’s chances of progressing.
However, former Japan coach Ivica Osim had a warning for his successor, telling reporters in Tokyo on the eve of the draw, “the bigger the expectations, the bigger the disappointment.”
Japan’s first match is against Cameroon on June 14 in Bloemfontein, before they take on the Netherlands in Durban on June 19 and end their group stage campaign against Denmark in Rustenburg on June 24.
Final day showdown in epic J. League race
At approximately 5.20pm on a chilly Saturday afternoon, the 2009 J. League champions will thrust their glittering trophy into wintry Japanese skies.
Whether it is two-time defending champions Kashima Antlers left celebrating, or the trophy-hungry Kawasaki Frontale, is the question still to be resolved.
Kashima hold the upper hand after Oswaldo de Oliveira’s side obliterated the only other title contender Gamba Osaka last weekend, as the Antlers ran riot in a 5-1 home victory.
Kawasaki kept alive their hopes of claiming a first ever piece of silverware thanks to a narrow 1-0 win at home to Albirex Niigata.
Not for the first time in J. League history, it all comes down to the final day of the season – with fans once again set to pack stadia up and down the country.
Tickets for the clash between Urawa Reds and their bitter rivals Kashima have been sold out for weeks, ensuring that more than 60,000 fans should turn out a packed Saitama Stadium.
The Reds may be disappointed to have missed out on a top-three finish and a place in next season’s Asian Champions League, but they would love nothing more than to derail Kashima’s title ambitions.
Meanwhile, relegated Kashiwa Reysol will host Kawasaki Frontale at the compact Kashiwa Hitachi Stadium in Chiba, with Kashiwa dropping out of the top flight on the back of their 1-1 draw away at Omiya Ardija last time out.
Nevertheless, the Sun Kings will be determined to make life as tough as possible for a nervy Kawasaki – who have already lost the League Cup final to local rivals FC Tokyo this season.
Takashi Sekizuka’s free-flowing Kawasaki side may play some of the most attractive football in Japan, but they’ve blown countless opportunities to wrap up the league title this season.
Should they fail to claim the title, Frontale will find it tough to shake off the tag as ‘chokers’ – with the J. League’s nearlymen once again so close, yet so far from that elusive piece of silverware.
Kashiwa Reysol will be joined by Oita Trinita and JEF United in J2 next season, with Vegalta Sendai and Cerezo Osaka already confirmed to replace them.
The final promotion place will be taken by either Shonan Bellmare or Ventforet Kofu, and both will be nervously monitoring scores around the grounds of J2.
However, it’s the Kanto plain that will command all the attention, as Kashima look to capitalise on their two-point break over Kawasaki.
Should Kashima fail to beat Urawa at a hostile Saitama Stadium, then it could be Kawasaki left celebrating at the compact Hitachidai.