World Cup commentary a whole new ball game


It’s the season of the Warudo Kappu (World Cup, duh!), the season that screams: Sakka fuan ni arazuba hito ni arazu (Those who aren’t soccer fans aren’t even people). At least until July 11 (the day after the World Cup final) that is, or until the sakka netsu (soccer fever) abates — whichever comes first.

So why not cave in and join the matsuri (festival), which, after all, only comes around once every four years. This time the Jyapan Irebun (Japan Eleven) is helmed by none other than Kamisama Zico (Zico the God) who, after all, is one of the leading forces that put J.League soccer on the map during his stint as a player and then technical director at Kashima Antlers.

As one of the supotsushi (sports tabloids) put it, when one looks back on the long, arduous road that Japan took from having no organized professional soccer league at all to becoming a contender in the international field, “namida nakushitewa katarenai (We can’t talk about it without getting all teary).”

Besides, sorry to be a girl about this, but really, the Nihon Daihyo (Japan national team) is full of ikemen (good-looking guys), making the whole soccer viewing experience that much more delightful. There’s something incredibly macho about the Jyapan Irebun sprinting and sweating all over the field, giving off steely cool and tossing their manes. And while we’re at it, does anyone know what kind of hair product goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi uses? His hair is always suspiciously sarasara (silky and sleek) even when the rest of him is drenched in sweat. (OK, I’ll stop.)

The other realization, apparent to anyone listening closely to the television commentary is that, like most other things imported from the West that Japan has embraced as its own, sakka has spawned a language and glossary unique to Japan. The phrases and words are now bandied about by sportscasters and journalists as if they had been spewing them from the cradle, and by 2010 I’m betting there will be enough new sakka bokya (soccer vocabulary) to fill an entire dictionary. For now, here are a few phrases that may fill you in on broadcast soccer lingo. Who knows, by the end of the month you too, may be joining the nation in that Jyapan Irebun battle cry: “Ike Ike Nippon! (Go Japan!)”

1. Boranchi (free player, more commonly known by the Italian term, libero): The foreign press has pointed out that Japan doesn’t have a bona fide libero. We like to think that in the last four years certain players on the team, namely Hidetoshi Nakata and Takashi Fukunishi, have been groomed for the role, though Nakata (a veteran with over 70 caps) is better known as a shireito, the command or control tower. Interestingly, in Japan, boranchi often has the nuance of a defensive midfield position while libero is usually translated as a sweeper in the Franz Beckenbauer mold.

2. Suta-men (starting members): The 11 players selected to start a match. Being chosen to be a suta-men is an honor, proof that a player has won Zico’s absolute trust.

3. Sensei goru (the first goal of a match): Japan’s football commentators put great stock in which team scores first. Here, sensei loosely translates as the first controlling move of the match and that first goal is believed to set the tone and mood for the rest of the game.

4. Feinto (dummy kick): Some players are better at it than others, but Shunsuke Nakamura can be quite devilish with this move.

5. Norukku pasu (dummy pass): It’s generally believed that the Japan team isn’t really comfortable with trick plays like this and, on the whole, prefers to fight like gentlemen. Those who remember the South Korea-Japan World Cup four years ago will recall that this trait frustrated the former Japan coach Philippe Troussier no end, who once denounced the Jyapan Irebun for having no battle spirit and behaving like naive little boys.

Speaking of coaches, Kamisama Zico is a totally different type from the handsomely groomed Troussier, who always showed up for practices in immaculate suits and taught the Jyapan Irebun to value strategy over individual flair. Zico, on the other hand, has come to resemble a rumpled Nippon no Otosan (Japanese Dad) in terms of his wardrobe choices. He favors jyaji (sweat pants and a sweat shirt) and has no qualms about jumping out of the dugout to make a point to his players. Sections of the vernacular press have berated him for lacking as a sakushi (strategist), but the Irebun revere him in a way that always eluded Troussier.