KAWASAKI — As if it showed pride, dignity and a bit of anxiety, Team Japan revealed its Hinomaru-colored red-and-white jersey — and its 45-man strong roster — for the 3rd IFAF World Championship on Saturday morning at Kawasaki Stadium’s clubhouse.
“We’ve been (training) since March 3, seeing so many different types of players. We’re now ready to play in the tournament,” Japan coach Toshiaki Abe said.
Japan is aiming to win its third straight title at the world championship, which is often referred to as “the American football World Cup.”
Abe’s squad for this year’s World Cup, which will be held July 7-15 in Kawasaki, is packed with many young, talented athletes, including X League players like wide receivers Shoei Hasegawa (Matsushita Denko Impulse) and Yu Nakajima (Asahi Beer Silver Star), quarterback Kentaro Namiki (Silver Star) and defensive back Tadanari Sano (Kajima Deers), all of whom are former NFL Europa players.
Two notable collegiate wideouts, Kazuya Togura of Hosei University and Naoki Maeda of Ritsumeikan University, made the team as well. (See the scoreboard on page 18 for the complete roster.)
“I’ll tell you, we didn’t pick them because they are college players,” Abe said of the two. “They’ve just got the ability. Their attachments to the ball are real strong.”
Abe confessed there is a little worry in him because, unlike in the last two championships, this Japanese team is young and most of the players do not have much international experience, adding that they have no idea how big and strong the European and American players are.
He hopes, however, youthfulness will be a positive catalyst for the team, helping it play without fear against powerful foreign nations.
Abe also put some veteran presence on the squad to guide it. Yasuo Wakisaka (Impulse), a 38-year-old defensive lineman, will be making his third consecutive appearance in the World Cup. Wakisaka was also named the team’s captain, while Yuichi Tomizawa (Onward Skylarks quarterback), Yasuhiro Hashizume (Silver Star tight end), Naoki Kosho (Obic Seagulls linebacker) and Sano are the vice captains.
“As the tournament is drawing near, we’ve been gradually feeling great expectations and responsibilities from people outside and our hearts are getting braced,” Wakisaka said. “We’d like to firmly prepare and enter the tournament.”
Coming into the World Cup as the host nation and the two-time defending champion, there will be a reason for the Japanese players and coaches to be burned up: The United States, mother nation of the sport, is making its first appearance in the World Cup.
Abe, who led Team Japan to the championship in eachof the last two tourneys as the head coach, seemed to look forward to the brand-new challenge, having apleasing grin on his face.
“This is a one-in-a-million opportunity,” said Abe, adding his team will not underestimate other countries as well and before playing the U.S. squad it will focus on its first game against France in the tournament’s first match.
“Having played this game for a long time, we’re going to be tested how much we can play and whether we can win (against the U.S.). In that respect, our players and coaches are real serious with the purpose in our mind.”
Takao Abe, the mayor of Kawasaki, said: “With the U.S. participating in (it), it’ll literally be the tournament to determine the world’s best. So we, as the city of Kawasaki, would like to support in any way.”
Most people agree that the quarterback is the most important player on a football team. But Abe has yet to determine which of the three quarterbacks — Tomizawa, Namiki and the Impulse’s Tetsuo Takata — will be the starter.