Japan goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi must have thought he was stuck in some weird Kafka dream when he let in a goal just 26 seconds into his Portsmouth debut on Nov. 3.
At halftime, Pompey manager Graham Rix slapped Kawaguchi on the back and said simply, “Welcome to England.”
Just 48 hours later, Kawaguchi was back in Japan. Not to escape the wonders of the English south coast, we should point out, but for last Wednesday’s international friendly against Italy in Saitama.
(If he read the newspaper reports about an Avispa Fukuoka player being arrested for “fondling” a 14-year-old schoolgirl, the Rix connection would have been lost on Kawaguchi, we assume.)
But moving swiftly on . . .
It was difficult to work out who would have been more disappointed after the 1-1 draw: the Italians or the groundsman at Saitama Stadium 2002, who prepared the biggest pudding of a pitch this side of Merthyr Tydfil (of the English Doc Martens League).
Italy’s captain Fabio Cannavaro, who at one point tripped over a divot the size of a dustbin lid, said after the match that it had been like playing “beach football.”
Up in the press seats, I found myself whistling the tune to De La Soul’s “Potholes in my Lawn.”
Lost in all of this was Kawaguchi’s late withdrawal from the Japan squad with a thigh strain and Philippe Troussier’s decision to leave Hidetoshi Nakata on the bench until the start of the second half.
Troussier is fast turning in to (pardon the cliche) a wily old fox. With Nakata still getting the treatment from the boo-boys at Parma, the Frenchman chose Hiroaki Morishima to play in the “hole” behind forwards Atsushi Yanagisawa and Naohiro Takahara.
Troussier may have been trying to cheer Morishima up after Cerezo Osaka’s relegation to J2, of course, but the selection paid off.
Morishima earned a free-kick on the edge of the box in the second minute and was a constant menace until he was replaced by Nakata, who did little in the second half to suggest he is over his crisis of confidence.
However, Junichi Inamoto showed Arsene Wenger what he is missing by leaving him on the bench at Arsenal with a solid display alongside Feyenoord’s Shinji Ono, who is fast establishing himself as Japan’s best midfielder.
Inamoto it was who provided the pass for Yanagisawa to volley a spectacular opening goal in the 10th minute. A second-half equalizer from Cristiano Doni, on his Italy debut, did little to dampen the circus that surrounded the Kashima striker after the match.
One commentator from NHK’s BS-1 channel even called Yanagisawa “the Japanese Michael Owen,” for which he was correctly slapped across the wrists and forced to sing three verses of the Spice Girls classic “Wannabe.”
Still, Yanagisawa’s on-off move to Italian club Perugia now appears on again and Japan’s top striker could be on his way as early as January, provided that there is a decent sushi restaurant within walking distance of his new apartment.
Kudos also to Gamba Osaka’s Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, who coped admirably with the pressure of filling in for the injured Naoki Matsuda and, surprisingly, being made captain for the Italian job.
“We’ve got to remember that this was just a friendly and it will be a different Italy at the World Cup,” said Miyamoto. Across the room, Juventus star Alessandro Del Piero joked that he was “knackered” after playing a match just 26 hours after arriving in Japan.
Fatigue and injuries were undoubtedly a factor, but the Japanese players demonstrated again that they will be no pushovers next summer.
Speaking of Kafka, Japan’s World Cup organizing committee (JAWOC) unveiled the official posters for the country’s 10 World Cup venues last week. As a global watchdog for soccer, “The Bald Truth” exclusively reveals that the host-city posters are utterly crap.
Artist Katsuhiko Hibino did the posters for free — and no wonder since they look like they were painted by Daniel Day-Lewis in “My Left Foot.”
We cut through the pretentious explanations (“Sapporo’s poster portrays the sangfroid of the local people”) of the artist and give you a meat-and-two-veg appraisal of these “South Park” cartoons gone wrong:
Sapporo: Looks like a black snowman (very PC!) levitating over a glacier.
Miyagi: An onigiri (rice ball) about to be sliced in two by an orange banana in a field of broad beans. (Man, this is good gear!)
Ibaraki: Fried eggs floating in a pond below a clubbed foot. (He drew them, not me!!)
Niigata: A hard-boiled egg, this time, juxtaposed with a road sign warning of a motorway ahead. Reminds me of the entrance to the M4 (without the egg).
Saitama: Kabul Airport about to be hit by an American missile. You’ll need night-vision goggles to make this one out.
Yokohama: “Thing” from the “The Adams Family” fishing for trout. The easiest one of the lot, this, and JAWOC thoughtfully provided a model who looked just like Shunsuke Nakamura to present Yokohama’s poster. (She might not thank me for saying that.)
Shizuoka: Broken eggshells and a sanitary towel lying in the corner of a field. (I am not making this up.)
Osaka: Another fried egg (does this guy have an egg fetish?) and an oven glove slipping into a hellish inferno. I’d be on the phone to JAWOC pronto if I came from Osaka. Or Shizuoka, for that matter.
Kobe: Mr. Hibino claims it is the Kobe Tower. But we know better. The subject is, in fact, a cracked egg timer. Or a pepper pot, I’m not sure which.
Oita: Now you would expect something like, say, a mountain and an A-Z map for this one, wouldn’t you? But no! What you get is a deformed dolphin performing tricks with two whoopee cushions. The fact that Mr. Hibino claims it is steam rising from a hot spring just doesn’t wash with me, frankly.
From the sublime to the ridiculous.
A little man from The Sun, Britain’s classiest tabloid, was in town for the Japan-Italy friendly. Strangely, however, he forgot to turn up for the actual match.
Would this have anything to do with the fact that the purpose of his trip was to make fun of Japan and the Japanese players, we wonder?
At the pre-match press conferences, he appeared more interested in whether Inamoto knew any English swear words than his frustration at not getting into Arsenal’s first team.
“You say your chance will come? Yeah, whatever. So, do any of the Arsenal lads speak Japanese?” asked The Sun.
“Er, Ashley Cole can say konnichiwa,” mumbled an embarrassed Inamoto.
“Ha, ha, ha, excuse me while I jot that down so I can stitch you up later,” guffawed the Little Man, who even had the nerve to tell other reporters present not to use Inamoto’s quotes. Oops, too late.
Finally, we wouldn’t want the Japanese media to think we’d left them out, now would we?
“WOWOW, come on down!”
Thrilled as I was that you screened the Champions League match between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund live on Oct. 31, WHY CAN’T YOU CRETINS PROVIDE ENGLISH COMMENTARY??!! It can’t be for budgetary reasons.
If you were skint, you wouldn’t be able to afford exclusive rights to show the games in Japan. So that must make you clueless.
When Liverpool’s caretaker manager Phil Thompson was being interviewed in the tunnel directly after the game, what did WOWOW do?
It immediately cut back to the studio, where two of its “expert pundits” were ready to inform the viewers that Owen is “fast” and Emile Heskey is “big.” Brilliant stuff.
There’s a job at The Sun for you chaps.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5