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Japan hopes for home-town surprises

Troussier has built a reputation for eccentricity
Troussier has built a reputation for eccentricity  

By Rebecca MacKinnon
Tokyo Bureau Chief

TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Will Japan reap victory from its home-field advantage?

Japan coach Philippe Troussier hopes so.

"Many surprises may come out," he told CNN in a recent interview. "I hope Japan will be one of those surprises."

Japan's World Cup debut in France was disappointing. It lost all three matches in its group, performing gallantly against Argentina and Croatia but dismally versus lowly Jamaica.

But that was before Troussier.

The 47-year old Frenchman came here from Africa, where he coached teams including Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and South Africa.

Since his involvement, Japan won the Asian Cup in 2000 and were Confederation Cup finalists last year. A series of good results against European sides recently have been marred by ordinary outings in pre-World Cup friendlies in May including a 3-0 thrashing away to Norway.

As Troussier worked over the past four years to build up Japan's young and relatively inexperienced J-league, he has also built a reputation for eccentricity in a culture renowned for its extreme politeness, reservation, and understatement.

He breaks social taboos by yelling at players in public. He gets publicly emotional at games.

This is necessary, he says, for Japan's players to grow accustomed to the national styles of the world's top teams like France, Argentina, and Brazil.

"Their football style is completely different to what Japanese players grow up playing," he says. "I've really tried to be that when they get on the field at the World Cup, they won't be surprised by what happens."

When it came to Japan's World Cup line-up, Troussier sent a strong message that he will not be swayed by public opinion, corporations or peers when he omitted the 23-year old Shunsuke Nakamura. Nakamura, with 19 international caps and three goals, is tremendously popular in Japan -- not only among fans but also among sponsors. His critics, however, call him a prima donna.

Nakamura. The popular midfielder was omitted from Troussier's squad
Nakamura. The popular midfielder was omitted from Troussier's squad  

"Japanese culture is still very shallow as far as football is concerned," he says. The interest that they are showing now in the World Cup is more like an interest in celebrities, rather than in football itself. Like going to see a Madonna concert or something."

Troussier hopes that the foreign experience of midfielders like Parma's Hidetoshi Nakata, and Feyenoord's Shinji Ono, along with Brazilian-born Alex (Alessandro Santos) will make a crucial difference.

"Japanese players are very good as far as the collective game is concerned, but they don't have enough individuality. This is probably due to their education."

Eighty percent of the game is a matter of collective action, he believes. But the critical difference is made by the players' individual character.

"Our players have not had enough experience abroad," he muses. "If they had played in some of the best clubs in Europe, they would have had individual experience that would help them to make their own decisions from time to time."

Troussier insists that he really believes Japan will win the World Cup. But he also has a more immediate -- and modest -- goal: to win the first match against Belgium on June 4 in Saitama stadium.

"By winning the first match we will prove that we are actually able to have a victory in the World Cup. It would be Japan's first victory in the World Cup," he says.



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