I hate April in Japan. Step outside and the air smells of sweaty underpants. My friend Percy tells me it has something to do with trees secreting spitballs. Which is nice.
Imagine how chuffed I was, then, to discover an even fishier pong down at the headquarters of the Japan Football Association (JFA) last week.
Believe it or not, it had nothing to do with Philippe Troussier’s aftershave. But when the Japan coach attempted to convince us that his side had played a blinder in the 1-1 draw with Costa Rica on April 17, the whiff of mucky shorts was unmistakable.
Troussier, who clearly relishes his fortnightly brush with “The Bald Truth,” even produced a videotape as Defense Exhibit A.
Why, we muttered to ourselves, would the Frenchman possibly want to regurgitate a game in which Japan played like a side rooted to the bottom of the Vauxhall Conference? My apologies to fans of Dover Athletic, but the man must be bonkers.
Troussier explained (without a hint of irony) that we were about to watch 11 minutes of action highlighting just how well Japan had performed against Costa Rica. Oh, the French sense of humor.
Now I have seen a few video nasties in my time, but this one took the baguette good and proper. I still wince when I think about it.
For the hardcore masochists among you, here is a breakdown of what we saw behind closed doors at the JFA.
For those of a squeamish disposition, look away now (or ignore the next eight paragraphs).
1. “FIGHT AND CONTACT”
Troussier had gone to the trouble of giving each segment a title in nonsensical English. The first of these consisted, from where I was sitting at least, of a series of clips showing Japanese defenders clattering, illegally, into the back of the Costa Rica forwards.
Still in a state of shock from “Fight and Contact,” I was hoping for some out-takes from “Tora, Tora, Tora,” but all we got was three minutes of Japan players attempting (and mostly failing) to get their heads to goal kicks or aimless long balls out of defense.
Mosquitoes will pose more of an aerial threat to defenders at the World Cup, even if the Japanese strikers play in high heels or run around with stepladders.
Here, Troussier tried to convince us that Seigo Narazaki had pulled off the save of the century when he blocked a second-half penalty from Ronald Gomez. At which point the whole thing started getting really silly.
Now, the press seats may be 1.2 km away from the pitch at Yokohama International Stadium but Gomez quite clearly scuffed his kick straight at the legs of Narazaki, who did his level best to dive out of the way.
It was the worst penalty ever. My uncle Bertie (God rest his soul) could have done better and he was a chronic asthmatic with an eye patch and an artificial hip.
4. “GOOD ATTACK”
Another set of lowlights made up almost entirely of excellent covering tackles from the Costa Rican defenders, three missed sitters from Takayuki Suzuki and Tomokazu Myojin’s fluke goal.
It must be something in the water in France. Troussier’s perseverance with the human pinball Suzuki and the continued faith Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier shows in Emile Heskey (with Nicolas Anelka and Jari Litmanen on the bench!?) seem inextricably linked.
Now if only Sven-Goran Eriksson could come up with a videotape proving conclusively that “Ulrikagate” was little more than a dip in the fjord then we could all sleep easy.
* * *
Sleep is no problem for the Japan players these days since Troussier relaxed his unhealthy room-sharing policy earlier in the year.
Now Atsushi Yanagisawa gets to have phone sex with his girlfriend in private and Tatsuhiko Kubo can stare at his bedroom wall without being called a weirdo. This can only be a good thing.
Alarmingly, though, Troussier is still insisting that the final three or four places in his World Cup squad will be chosen on the basis of which players “mix best with the group.” This sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Imagine the scene at last week’s Japan camp. Yanagisawa runs up a phone bill for 500,000 yen in three days, Suzuki keeps elbowing teammates in the face — AT BREAKFAST! — and Kubo cries nonstop because he has just discovered his dad was the tooth fairy all along.
Meanwhile, Narazaki is doing his favorite trousers-round-ankles party piece during a team karaoke session and Junichi Inamoto is still sulking because Arsene Wenger keeps picking Patrick Vieira.
And Troussier wants players on the fringe of the World Cup squad to come in and add to the team chemistry?!
Mitsuo Ogasawara and Alessandro Santos, who should be in the squad on merit anyway, only have to act like chimpanzees and they’re on the bus.
Santos will play along because he is desperate to play in the World Cup. (Why else would you voluntarily become a Japanese citizen?) But Ogasawara is still in a state of shock after he was humiliatingly taken off midway through the first half against Costa Rica.
What price a recall for Tsuyoshi Kitazawa?
* * *
So the United States has announced its World Cup squad already? South Koreans (who just love the Americans anyway) will be thrilled to learn that the likes of Jeff Agoos of the San Jose Earthquakes and Josh Wolff of the Chicago Fire (Department?) both made the squad.
Oh, come on. According to my fellow columnist Marty Kuehnert, American sports stars are known “all around the world.”
Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods do not even need their surnames, apparently. Kuehnert even claims that Japanese baseball star Ichiro Suzuki is on first-name terms with the entire planet, like “Michael” and “Tiger.” And Jeff and Josh, presumably.
Obviously he is not referring to Europe, Africa, most of Asia etc. For Americans, “all around the world” still means the U.S. (Why else do they call it the “World Series?”)
Just try asking someone in a high street in England if they have heard of Ichiro. “Ichiro? What’s that, a hemorrhoid cream or something?”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5