Japan have been a constant presence at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup although, as yet, they have yet to enjoy a top-three finish. Qualification for Tahiti 2013 means that Japan – along with Brazil and Argentina – will be the only nations to feature at all seven editions of the sand based spectacle.
Japan did claim fourth-place at the maiden edition of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in 2005, but since then they have progressed beyond the first round only on one further occasion; Dubai 2009. They will have an opportunity to better that record in a month’s time when 16 of the world’s elite beach soccer nations gather in French Polynesia’s warm sands. Guided by Brazilian-born Japan-national Ruy Ramos the East Asians claimed their best-ever performance eight years ago, and the highly-experienced coach will again be at the helm next month.
Preparation and teamwork
Under Ramos’s tutelage the East Asian side have been preparing diligently for their latest tilt at glory. The squad have experienced a heavy workload since qualifying in January, when they were narrowly tipped out of the continental crown by a three-goal Iran comeback and a penalty shoot-out defeat. This year, in addition to monthly three-day training camps, the team participated in a Portugal-based tournament, which included a win over a strong Spain outfit. They will have another training camp next week with two rare home internationals against Switzerland in Tokyo just prior to departing for Tahiti.
Ramos, in keeping with the ethos traditionally displayed by Japan’s national teams, believes teamwork is a vital ingredient to success. “Beach soccer cannot be played without helping each other and if someone blows off his work, tactics will not work,” Ramos told FIFA.com. “I think it is very important to have the mind to contribute to the team and I always encourage our players to be mindful of this.
“All of our players can contribute to offence and defence. No one, not even the goalkeeper, stops moving around during the match. In beach soccer, it is very difficult to do exactly what you want because you play on the sand. Even if you have one great player in your team, you do not necessarily win the match.”
While Ramos is mindful of team over the individual he is pleased to have the richly-talented Osmar Moreira at his disposal. The player of the tournament during the Qatar-based qualifying tournament has made a similar journey to Ramos who is now naturalised Japanese after being raised in Brazil. “Welcoming him (Moreira) to the team was meaningful,” says Ramos, who has lived in Japan for 25 of his 56 years. “When he is on the pitch, his experience gives stability to the team and dynamism to other players.”
Drawn against reigning champions Russia, South American qualifiers Paraguay and Côte d'Ivoire, Japan will need to do it the hard way if they are to reach the knockout stage. “Russia first up is of course a strong opponent I know, but it will be an interesting match,” says Ramos. “If we play well in the first match, we can build momentum. The second match against Paraguay is also a difficult one as they are the second best in South America, but I think we have a good chance. I can say the same for Cote d'Ivoire.”
Rio-born he may be but pride in Japan runs strongly though Ramos’ veins – he displays love for his adopted homeland via a tattoo of the Japanese flag on his shoulder – but like most in the beach soccer fraternity there is one opponent he would particularly like to face. “It would be great if we can face Brazil in the knockout stage.”