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Okada looking to conquer Japan, Asia and rest of world

by Jeremy Walker

YOKOHAMA — Yokohama F. Marinos manager Takeshi Okada has set his sights on a domestic and continental title double in 2005.

News photoTakeshi Okada, manager of the two-time defending J.league champion Yokohama F. Marinos,
has big ambitions for his club, both in Japan and abroad, in 2005.
News photo Takeshi Okada, who coached Japan to its first World Cup at France ’98, will have to contend
with many injuries to his squad as the J.league season begins.

The former national coach has targeted a third consecutive J. League championship, plus victory in the Asian Champions League, as his priorities for the new season, which kicks off Saturday.

“I have told the players that these two competitions are the same level,” Okada said this week at the Marinos’ training base in Totsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

“The players want to try for it and the supporters want us to do it, so I cannot say it is impossible.”

Marinos open their title defense on Saturday afternoon at home to Jubilo Iwata, and plunge straight into Asian Champions League group action on Wednesday.

Both Marinos and Jubilo will be representing Japan in the Asian Football Confederation’s equivalent of the UEFA Champions League, and victory will bring with it a place in the six-team FIFA Club World Championship in Japan in December.

Last season, Okada fielded a second-string lineup in the Asian Champions League to protect his senior players for the J. League, and paid the price when his team was eliminated in the group stage.

“Looking back at last season I thought it was a bit risky to try and win both the J. League and the Asian Champions League. Someone who runs after two hares will catch neither.

“But now, the young players have improved and we have been able to reinforce the squad, so I think it is quite possible to win both titles.

“We have won the last two J. League championships and need to move up to a higher level by winning the Asian Champions League. We also want to be the first club to win three J. League championships in a row.”

Okada, who coached Japan at the 1998 World Cup in France, is starting his third season in charge of the F. Marinos.

He steered them to a two-stage slam for the perfect championship in 2003 and won the first stage last season before beating second-stage champions Urawa Reds in a penalty shootout in the championship playoff.

Ever the thinker and the pragmatist, Okada has even calculated how many points his team must collect to finish on top of the pack in the single-stage format involving 34 games.

“I divided the clubs into A, B and C groups,” he said.

“In the A group we cannot expect to win both matches, maybe one win and one draw, or one win and one defeat.

“But by analyzing some data from other championships I think we need to collect 70 percent of the total points. That means 71 points is the aim.”

To do that, Marinos must increase their goal output compared to last season, when they fell way short of Okada’s 60-goal target by managing only 47 in 30 matches.

“Of course I was not satisfied with that, because we must be aiming to score two goals a game,” he said.

Regarding title rivals, Okada picked out a rejuvenated Jubilo and last season’s runnerup, Urawa, as the two biggest threats, followed by Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka.

“With other teams it depends on their foreign players. A C-ranked team could suddenly become an A-ranked team with good foreign players.”

Facing a 60-match marathon campaign, with the Nabisco Cup and season-ending Emperor’s Cup of secondary importance to the big two, Okada has assembled a 34-strong squad.

“Well, it’s more like twenty-something at the moment because of all the injuries,” he said.

With Okada’s track record over the past two seasons, no title rival will feel the F. Marinos are less of a threat because of that.