King Kazu set to reign again
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Kazuyoshi Miura is a living legend of Japanese football and at the age 45, he still plays professionally for Yokohama FC in the J.League’s second division. About the only thing missing from his impressive resume is a FIFA World Cup™ appearance for Japan, but the evergreen striker affectionately known as “King Kazu” is now tantalisingly close to achieving a dream that seemed to have slipped away.

Earlier this month, Miura was called up for a provisional squad for the FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012. Japanese coach Miguel Rodrigo believes Miura has precisely the qualities that could help the continental champions make a serious bid for the title in November.

“Kazu’s experience will be massive for our team,” Rodrigo said after Miura’s call-up was announced. “It’s almost unheard of that a footballer who has played at elite level would give futsal a try. Only a special person could do this.”

Born in 1967, Miura first made a name for himself when he travelled alone to Brazil as a teenager with dreams of becoming a professional. In the 1980s, when Japanese football was still all-amateur, Miura played for several Brazilian clubs, including powerhouses Santos. He also had his first taste of futsal, the five-a-side indoor game with roots in South America. Miura believes that encounter was crucial to his football development.

“Most Brazilian players have played futsal. I think young Japanese players would find that honing their skills through futsal would pay off in due course, too,” he said.

Remarkable resume
He returned to Japan in 1990 and joined decorated Yomiuri FC, which later became Verdy Kawasaki (now Tokyo Verdy) and was a dominant force in the J.League’s inaugural season in 1993. Miura had a stellar campaign and was named Most Valuable Player as Verdy won the crown.

In 1994, Miura became the first Japanese to play in the Serie A when he joined Genoa, and he later had stints at Dinamo Zagreb and Sydney FC. During his time with the Australian club, Miura became the first Japanese to appear at the FIFA Club World Cup, in 2005.

Playing at the FIFA Futsal World Cup is the ultimate for a futsal player. I’m proud to have been offered this chance, and it’s given me tremendous motivation.
Kazuyoshi Miura

Despite his impressive credentials, Miura has never played at a FIFA World Cup for Japan. He was instrumental in guiding the Samurai Blue through the qualifying rounds to reach the 1998 tournament in France, but was stunningly dropped from the squad for the finals, a decision that generated a maelstrom of debate in Japan. At 31 and in his footballing prime, it seemed Miura’s World Cup dream was over.

Miura last played for his country in June 2000, ending a career in which he scored 55 goals in 89 matches. Twelve years later, the prospect of Miura slipping on the blue jersey again - albeit for the national futsal team - has many Japanese football fans licking their lips. Miura himself is also excited at the challenge ahead.

“Playing at the FIFA Futsal World Cup is the ultimate for a futsal player. I’m proud to have been offered this chance, and it’s given me tremendous motivation,” he said. “Although it’s a different category of football, it’s not a matter of one being superior to another. Playing in a World Cup is my dream and my goal.”

Futsal usually flies under the media radar in Japan, but the squad’s camp in Nagoya this week attracted crowds of reporters and TV crews. Miura’s commitment and energy in training belied his 45 years, and his eye for goal remained undiminished. His contribution was precisely what Rodrigo had hoped for when he persuaded Miura to join the squad. “I want to shoot whenever I can and score plenty of goals,” Miura said.

The J2 season is underway, and Miura’s club commitments required him to leave midway through the camp. Before Miura returned to Yokohama, Rodrigo gave him a DVD containing tactics and other details to help him stay abreast of team strategies even from a distance.

After warm-up matches against Brazil in Tokyo on 24 October and Ukraine in Hokkaido three days later, “King Kazu” is hoping his FIFA World Cup dream will finally become reality when Japan opens its campaign in Thailand on 1 November.