Japan have a long and rich association with Brazilian football and that relationship will be further enhanced over the coming fortnight at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Tahiti 2013.
Most famously Brazil superstar Zico earned iconic status in Japan as a player, and then as national team coach. Sao Paulo born forward Wagner Lopes represented Japan with distinction at their FIFA World Cup™ debut in 1998, while Kazuyoshi Miura - arguably the most famous of all Samurai Blue stars - turned out in the colours of Sao Paulo outfit Juventus as a teenager.
On the sand Japan are led by the hugely experienced Ruy Ramos, a gregarious Rio native naturalised a quarter of a century ago. Now the east Asians have a new and impressive member of the Japan-Brazil fraternity; prolific goalscorer Osmar 'Ozu' Moreira.
Long wait ends in style
Naturalised last year after making the move to Japan in 2007, Ozu made an immediate impression in his maiden international outing. The tall athletic Ozu was named player of the tournament in the 16-nation qualifying tournament as Japan narrowly missed the continental crown, foiled by an unlikely Iran comeback in the final.
So how does it feel to represent his adopted homeland after such a long wait? “It felt brilliant,” the tall athletic Ozu told FIFA.com of his pride in donning the Japan colours. “It is like my culture, I love Japan. Five years was too late to wait. My dream was to play for Japan and I’m really happy to wear the uniform.”
The two nations renewed their ever-increasing football link at the recent FIFA Confederations Cup, and while French Polynesia’s golden sands may seem an unlikely locale for another meeting Tahiti is, somewhat appropriately, roughly equidistant between the two nations.
If Japanese come to Brazil they feel like home, and the opposite is true as well.
“Japanese and Brazilian have some sort of natural connection,” says Ozu. “If Japanese come to Brazil they feel like home, and the opposite is true as well. Japan are keen to take football culture from Brazil.”
Japan believe they have prepared adequately and enjoying significant training time at their Okinawa base, plus a number of international outings. “Our team is strong, we have a good chance to do well in the tournament, “says Ozu as Japan prepares to open against world champions Russia, before further outings against Paraguay and Côte d'Ivoire.
Born and raised within kicking distance of Copacabana beach, football on the sand is part of Ozu’s DNA. Growing up he had first hand experiences with current Brazil coach Junior Negao and veteran pivot Jorginho, and now the 27-year-old could come face-to-face with A Seleção on the world stage.
“It would be amazing to play against Brazil, Ozu says smiling at the sheer magic of such a scenario. “Of course I love Brazil, but I feel Japanese now. It would be amazing experience because I started with these guys and then play against them at the World Cup. It would just be incredible.”