Everything is looking rosy for Japan right now, with Vahid Halilhodzic getting his reign off to a perfect start with three wins from three and an easy second round of World Cup qualifying about to get underway.
Of course there will always be contentious issues when it comes to the national team – whether they be with regards to media relations, player selection, or tactics – and there will undoubtedly be difficulties both on and off the pitch further down the line. But despite the stormy seas that ensued on account of the disappointments at the Word Cup and Asian Cup and the enforced dismissal of Javier Aguirre, the JFA boat never seemed in danger of capsizing.
Such serenity (and financial clout) must make the association the envy of many of its counterparts around the world, particularly within Asia.
Iraq, for instance, went further than the Samurai Blue at the Asian Cup, losing in the semi-finals to South Korea. They, along with Japan vanquishers UAE, a seemingly-on-the-rise China, and the always-threatening Uzbekistan, appeared to represent an emerging group of teams with the potential to upset the big boys.
Five months down the line and things look to have stalled for the Lions of Mesopotamia, however, and Yaser Kasim made it clear in no uncertain terms where he thinks the responsibility for that lies.
“No-one really performed, but I can’t really blame the players,” the Swindon Town midfielder said after his side’s 4-0 humbling by Japan on Thursday. “I don’t believe in our condition right now we’re going to get where we want. We can forget about the World Cup, and I’m not even blaming the players.
“There’s a lot of issues off-field that we have to sort out. I think some people need to start working towards the team more, because at this rate things are not going to go well. We did alright in the Asian Cup, we were lucky to have a manager that had a very good game plan, but looking into the future it seems a little bit dim, in truth.”
The highly regarded Rahdi Shenaishil was only in charge on a temporary loan from Qatar Stars League side Qatar SC at the Asian Cup, and has since been replaced by Akram Selman – who is taking the national team reins for the fourth time.
There are of course a variety of non-football issues that still impact on everyday life in Iraq, not to mention the running of the country’s football league and national team. Kasim doesn’t dispute that, but doesn’t feel that such factors can be used to easily explain away the lack of professionalism which he believes is preventing the team from making the next step up.
“I think that has an impact but when you come to this sort of level and we’re playing football where players are coming around the world trying to fight on the pitch, give their 100 percent, and people are not coming up to the level that is needed behind the scenes it’s pretty disgusting. That’s the truth of it.”
The 24-year-old illustrated his point with an unusual example from Thursday night – a scene in which Japan goalkeeping coach Ricardo came to the rescue of an opposing team’s player with kick-off rapidly approaching.
“My brother lives in Japan – he’s lived here for two years, in Gifu,” Kasim said. “He came here and they didn’t have the ticket for him until 6pm. So me, as a player, I’m trying to sort out one ticket for one family member. I’ve had to go and politely ask the goalkeeper trainer of Japan who’s thankfully sorted it.”
Kasim believes that his football association would do well to follow his lead and look to the JFA for help and advice if it wants to truly prepare a team to challenge at the World Cup.
“They were good in the Asian Cup and they dominated today” he said of the Samurai Blue.
“They’re an unbelievable team and we were talking about it earlier, 20 years ago maybe the Japanese weren’t so great and looking at them now, the way they’ve developed, is tremendous. It’s something you have to take as an example that I wish our Iraq set-up could note down and learn a bit from.”