The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
Gloom in Japan, despite Becks

Tokyo: This time last year no self-respecting Japanese fan would be seen without a David Beckham Mohican haircut — the sign of true street-cred as World Cup fever swept the country.

Fittingly, Japan reached the second round of a pulsating tournament where romance defied logic.

Eventually romance and logic entwined with Ronaldo providing a fairytale finish by scoring twice to give Brazil a 2-0 victory over Germany in the World Cup final.

But one year on, Japan are struggling for results, the futuristic stadiums built for the 2002 World Cup are heavily in debt and the only Beckham in town is three metres tall and made of chocolate.

The feel-good factor from co-hosting the first Asian World Cup with South Korea has gone.

Beckham-mania may be alive and kicking in Japan, where they even sculpted a giant chocolate statue of the England captain, but it has failed to lift the gloom for Zico, Japan’s Brazilian national team manager, who has won just twice in 10 games since taking over as coach after the World Cup.

The pressure increased on the Brazilian after a disappointing early exit from the Confederations Cup this month which prompted chants of “Zico out” from a section of Japanese fans.

His predecessor, Philippe Troussier, had frequent bust-ups with his players and bickered constantly with Japanese officials but by guiding Japan to the last 16 of the World Cup, the Frenchman proved there was method to his madness.

Zico has eschewed both the mean streak and 3-5-2 formula used by Troussier in favour of a 4-4-2 line-up reliant on Europe-based medios Hidetoshi Nakata, Shunsuke Nakamura and the injury-prone Shinji Ono.

So far the new system has failed to yield results, despite a much-improved show in the 1-2 defeat to France in their second Group A match at the Confederations Cup.

“We have to go back to basics,” said Zico, whose team had been beaten 0-1 by South Korea and thrashed 1-4 by Argentina in the build-up to the Confederations Cup.

Japanese tax payers, meanwhile, many of whom have little interest in soccer in a country where baseball has much deeper roots, have more pressing concerns since they could be counting the cost of the World Cup until 2030.

Eight of the 10 stadiums used for matches in Japan face combined losses of over $ 20 million in the current fiscal, while there are still outstanding debts of some $ 17 million from ground construction.

International Stadium Yokohama, venue for the Cup final, is worst off with losses estimated at $ 4.5 million as it struggles to meet annual operating costs of $ 6.7 million.

In order to alleviate the burden, city officials are taking bids to rename the 70,000-seat stadium at a starting price of $ 4.2 million a year for a minimum five-year period.

Meanwhile, semi-final venue Saitama has opted for a more unusual method of raising cash by holding goalmouth weddings .

At the professional level, the World Cup has had little effect on the domestic game with only a negligible rise in J-League attendances three months into the season.

J-League clubs have averaged crowds of 16,912 so far this year, only a fraction up from 16,368 in 2002 (Reuters)

Email This Page