Would you like some Sushi..taka? The Japanese style of soccer

By | November 27, 2013

Recently, the Japanese soccer team has been on the rise. They’ve recovered from the recent criticisms arising from their poor performance in the Confederations Cup. In their most recent matches, the Japanese national team has stood toe-to-toe with both the Netherlands and Belgium.

In the match versus the Netherlands, Japan was not fazed at all by the goals of Van der Vaart and Arjen Robben. They played their style of football known as “Sushitaka” and came back from a 0-2 deficit by goals from Yuya Osako and Keisuke Honda. Even though the match ended up on a 2-2 draw, the general consensus was that Japan outplayed the Netherlands. To add on to their hot streak, Japan surprised the world by beating the dark horse of the 2014 Brazil World Cup, Belgium, 3-2 in a friendly match.

The recent success of the Japanese national team can be attributed to the midfielder Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka).

Yasuhito Endo

Endo is a veteran player who has played in 139 matches for Japan since the 2002 World Cup. He has won a spot on the J-league Best Eleven from 2003~2012 and in addition won several other accolades such as 2008 Asian Champions League MVP, and the 2009 AFC Player of the Year. He is known as the Xavi Hernandez of the Japanese football team. However, over the years, Endo’s health has deteriorated to a condition where he can’t play the whole 90 minutes like his old self. Due to this, the so called “Endo Time” was born.

The manager of the Japanese national team, Alberto Zaccheroni, started out by looking for Endo’s replacement. He tried out several players during the East Asian Cup and found his answer in Hotaru Yamaguchi, a 23 year old defensive midfielder. However, Yamaguchi couldn’t perfectly fill up Endo’s shoes. You can’t just replace a player like Endo, similar to how you can’t just replace Zidane, Pirlo, or Xavi. So what Zaccheroni came up with was a plan to use both Yamaguchi and Endo: Yamaguchi during the first 45 and Endo in the last 45.

This plan worked to perfection as Endo came alive when he was put on the pitch. In the match versus Netherlands, when Endo came on the pitch the Japanese were able to score two goals to tie the match at 2. Even Arjen Robben said it felt like a defeat in the second half.

“We simply weren’t able to play our normal game and we didn’t have the capability to alter our tactics and hurt them in some other way.”          

Saving up his energy allowed Endo to play even better than before and as a result, when he came on the pitch during the game against Belgium, he was able to assist a Keisuke Honda goal with a beautiful pass. But it wasn’t as if Endo was the super hero of the match, who saved the Japanese from a terrible defeat. Japan suffocated Belgium in their home ground (the match was held at Baudouin Stadium in Bruxelles). After Mirallas scored the opener on an error committed by Sakai, Japan pulled up their four-back line. Considering the fact that the match was held in Belgium and with opposing players as talented as Hazard and Lukaku, Japan could have easily played a defense-minded game. However, Alberto Zaccheroni decided to meet fire with fire.

After conceding a goal, the Japanese players started to pressure the ball more often as Belgium swung the ball from side to side. As the Belgians retreated back into their side of the pitch, Hazard also had to come down more to receive the ball. From here started the “seal off Hazard” plan. As soon as Hazard got the ball, 2-3 Japanese players stuck to him like glue and forced Hazard from turning and accelerating. This bought time for the Japanese defense to get set before Hazard could turn to counter. This plan held on when Fellaini came on the second half. Also by forcing Mertens and Mirallas out of the danger zone, the Japanese forced the Belgians to pass towards the backs or to the side, something that you don’t really want to do in soccer. Then with players like Hasebe and Endo, Japan was able to shake of the pressure of the Belgian defense. With the creativity of Honda added in Japan was able to score and beat the Belgians in their home ground.

I’d hate to say this but Japan has improved tremendously over the past few years and is considered the “alpha dog” among the Asian countries. Whenever I see Japan and South Korea play, I can really grasp that South Korea is of no match for the Japanese. Also, along with the arise of “Endo Time,” Japan has found the answer to their prayers of a lack of strikers in Yoichiro Kakitani, who scored the wonderful header against Belgium, and Yuya Osako, who scored against Holland. With the help of the new comers and the veterans Hasebe, Honda, and Kagawa, Japan is looking to surprise the world in the 2014 Brazil World Cup.

7 thoughts on “Would you like some Sushi..taka? The Japanese style of soccer

  1. Husen Darmawan

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  2. Matt Ochs

    Your analysis of “Endo-time” is very interesting, and this Japanese model could become widely used by clubs and national teams over the next 10 years. Of course, any sports fan understands it is a little sad to see your favorite players reduced to the role of a substitute due to age and health concerns. Particularly in soccer- where strict rules on substitution make it so that most subs don’t even touch the pitch during a game- having a star player’s time in the game dwindle is unfortunate for the fans. I believe the creation of “endo-time” would please most fans, but more importantly it would be beneficial to teams. Any truly great soccer player has the mental understanding of the game to know what he ought to be doing on the field, but also the physical ability to put his plan into action. When a player’s age forces the manager to replace him with a younger player, often a bit of the mental awareness on the pitch is lost as well. Having the experienced player on the pitch for only half the game provides for the perfect combination of mental sharpness and physical execution.

  3. Jun Yoon Post author

    Colby you might be right in your point in that if Endo-time was implemented Japan might have come out on the top. The fact that Yamaguchi wasn’t on the team was because he was only discovered through the East Asian Cup which was held at a later time. I think Zaccheroni saw that Endo’s health was deteriorating by his performance in the Confederations Cup and saw the need to implement a new strategy. Either way, I hope Japan try out a couple new strategies to effectively use all their members and do well in the following World Cup.

  4. Colby Shanafelt

    I found this piece very interesting, as I really did not know much about Japanese soccer. In fact, the last time I remember seeing Japan play was when they faced Italy in the FIFA Confederations Cup back in June. In that game, Japan went up 2-0 early in the first half before Italy came back to win 4-3 with a late goal from Sebastian Giovinco. Interestingly, in that game, Yasuhito Endo played the entire match, and based on the state of his health, perhaps this is what contributed to Japan’s strong start and weak finish (they let up 3 goals in the second half). Perhaps if “Endo-time” was implemented in this match, the result may have been different, yet Hotaru Yamaguchi was not on the team at this time. It will be interesting to see how this strategy affects Japan’s chances in the World Cup. I guess Japan has shown that playing Endo for only one half is beneficial, yet hopefully Japan can overcome a deficit they might incur in the first half with the maestro of Japanese football sitting on the bench.

  5. Jun Yoon Post author

    I also agree that the increased number of Japanese players playing in foreign leagues has contributed the recent success of the Japanese national team. Players such as Kiyotake, Hosogai, Hasebe, Nagatomo, Honda, and Kagawa have taken the European league by storm. Kagawa, before he transferred to Man United, was one of the core players for Dortmund and their high octane offense. But I also think that the well developed J-league and the strong infrastructure had a role to play in Japan’s recent success.

  6. Jarrett Link

    I would definitely say their willingness to venture into Europe has benefited the Japanese national team. Nakamura did set the precedent by moving to Celtic (check out some of his free kick goals. Amazing), but recently the Bundesliga in Germany has provided a home away from home for many Japanese players. Despite the language barrier, the likes of Shinji Kagawa, until he moved to Manchester United, Makoto Hasebe, who won the title with Wolfsburg in 2009, and others, the German league has polished many players from the Far East. Even FIFA remarks that the “Japanese jewels [are] sparkling in Germany.” (http://www.fifa.com/world-match-centre/news/newsid/215/032/9/index.html).

    Playing against stronger opposition will no doubt improve one’s skills, and the recent rise of the Bundesliga and increased number of Japanese players plying their trade in that league has contributed to the improvement of Sushitaka.

  7. Vishnu Kadiyala

    It’s interesting how Japanese players have taken Europe by storm in the last few years. I first noticed Sunsuke Nakamura at Celtic, but Shinji Kagawa )though possibly wasted at Manchester United) has also taken the footballing world by storm. Perhap their willingness to venture into Europe has helped the Japanese mens teams?


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