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Japan begins long road to American football worlds

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

About 15 months before the fifth American football world championships get under way, Japan has started preparing to reclaim the title it won in the first two editions of the event.

The first step is to find new and young talent and give them some experience playing against other countries.

The Japan American Football Association announced 85 candidates for the national team earlier this month and the preliminary Japan team started practice last weekend.

“We did not select players older than 31 this time,” defensive coordinator Makoto Ohashi said. “We do have as many as 10 players over 32 that we wanted for the national team, but we decided to give young players experience in taking on other countries this year.”

The Japan team, which will be cut to a 45-man roster in early April to meet the official limit, is scheduled to play Germany on April 12 at Kawasaki Fujimi Stadium to celebrate the refurbishment of the stadium, formerly known as Kawasaki Stadium and home to the Lotte Orions (now Marines) and the Taiyo Whales (now Yokohama BayStars) baseball teams. Japan will also play an Asian qualifier for the world championships against Philippines on April 26 at Amino Vital Field in Chofu, Tokyo.

The world championships will be played from July 4-18 in Stockholm next year. When Japan won the first (1999 in Italy) and second (2003 in Germany) meets, Japan had some players who had played in NFL Europa or the Arena League.

“Since the NFL Europa has folded, our players rarely have opportunities to play football overseas or play games against foreign countries,” Japan head coach Kiyoyuki Mori said. “We have international games this year, so it’ll be a good chance for young players to get some international experience. That’s why we closed the door to some talented but older players this year.”

“Of course we will open the door to everybody next year to win the world championship,” Mori continued. “We will select the best 45 available next year and we won’t care if they are all over 30 or all from one team as long as they perform under our system.”

The United States, the mother nation of American football, did not participate in the first two championships, and Canada, another of the sport’s major powers, made its debut in the most recent competition. The Americans have won the last two titles (2007 in Kawasaki and 2011 in Vienna). Japan played the U.S. and Canada once apiece, but lost both times, the only losses Japan has suffered in world championship history.

The ultimate goal for Japan is not only to bring the championship back but to beat the U.S. and Canada.

“We’ll make a team that can compete against the U.S and Canada over two years,” Ohashi said. And Mori explained how they will make it happen.

“We’ll make the best of our advantages, such as good preparation, strong ties with each other, discipline, quickness and knowledge of plays,” Mori said.

“We know it can work. We have beaten bigger and more powerful guys. But that’s not enough to beat the U.S. and Canada. You have to be as physical as them or maybe more.”

“We have selected bigger guys on this team. If we get physical enough and use our advantages, we can compete against the U.S. and Canada,” Mori said.