LINUS LINDAHL / AIPS* in SHARJAH: Japan completed the group stage in the FIFA U17 World Cup UAE 2013 with at 100pc record of three straight victories. But the Asian team are much more than that and have a coach who thinking very differently to his colleagues in the tournament.
Japan’s coach Hirofumi Yoshitake did something rare during the group stage. He made wholesale changes to his starting line-up from match to match so when face Sweden in Monday’s second round tie every player in the squad knows how it feels to play in a U-17 World Cup.
Even the three goalkeepers have had one match each to show their skills. Koki Sugimori is the one with least time on the pitch – 43 minutes – while the other two have played at least 90 minutes.
Yoshitake said: “I think the result in the tournament is important. But the most important thing for me is that I want to give all players the same experience.
“Every morning before match I check the players’ condition and mentality. If I feel the player is 100pc good I choose him to start. For other teams this may be unusual but for my teams this is the usual way.”
Yoshitake makes no secret of his source of inspiration. Japan mix strong defending with quick passes and ball possession like one of the best teams in the world, Barcelona.
He said: “I am influenced by Barcelona’s education philosophy. Since a young age, from 10, the training their players to be the team of the future. We also work for the future. It is an important time for kids between 12 and 17. An education system with a philosophy to make one team is important for young players.”
Clearly the Japan coach cherishes his group who do not have just the one leader on the pitch. One more thing he has done is to switch captain between the matches.
He said: “We do not have stars like Neymar. It is difficult to make such players. So I think our team is a one-for-all team. We have the same responsibilities, same training, same qualities.
“To change captain is also a good experience for all the players. If a player wants to be a captain I want to give them all captaincy experience.”
The former teacher hopes his side will go further than two years ago when their adventure ended with a 3-2 defeat by Brazl in the quarter-finals.
Next step for Japan’s Barcelona-inspired coach is the second round in Sharjah against Sweden who finished third in Group F.
He said: “It is a very tough match. I am very glad about having this match against Sweden. This experience will be very good for the players’ future”.
Should Japan be crowned as champions on November 8 then every member of the squad who kisses his medal can feel that he contributed significantly to helping the team reach their dream.
* AIPS, the international sports journalists association, is running a Young Reporters course at the FIFA U-17 World Cup UAE 2013 with the support of the local organising committee and FIFA
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