Japan have pulled off the surprise of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Dubai 2009 so far, topping Group B with three wins to advance to the last eight in style. Kicking off with a notable penalty-shootout win over Spain and playing a stylish brand of football, the Japanese have been rightly acclaimed by the pundits.
Yet, one man who was not impressed with their performance in the final group game against El Salvador was coach Rui Ramos, who angrily left the bench before the end of his side’s 7-2 win. “If they don’t need me, then I’m going,” snapped the Brazilian-born tactician. “I’ve got other things to do. If they don’t apologise to me, then I’m not coming back.”
So what was the reason for his loss of temper, which was all the more surprising given all the plaudits his side have been receiving in Dubai? “I told them certain things and they went out and did the opposite,” he told FIFA.com. “That’s why I left. They didn’t need me.”
A hard taskmaster with great passion, Ramos is in his second spell in charge of the side, having returned to the post after steering the Japanese to fourth place at Rio de Janeiro 2005. In between came a barren spell for the Asians, who failed to progress beyond the group phase in two attempts.
“That was a shame,” he explained. “I think the problem was that they weren’t being coached in the right way. The players still had the same skills, but they weren’t fighting at all. They wanted to play pretty football, but without battling for the ball. And if you don’t do that, then you lose.”
A former player with Yomiuri (since renamed Tokyo Verdy) and a member of the Japan side that failed to reach USA 1994, Ramos has brought the good times back by sticking to a tried-and-tested formula. “It’s just about love for the flag, respect and working hard in honour of your country. We have a lot of support and the only thing I ask of them is that they fight and never give up. It’s not easy to play this game in Japan, and that’s why they have to give everything in competitions like this.”
The players certainly seem to appreciate his methods, having urged him to return to the job, an invitation he was reluctant to accept at first. “I said no to them,” he reported. “I told them I was very set in my ways, that they knew how strict I was. They wouldn’t take no for an answer, though, and in the end I gave in. I’m proud that they were the ones who asked me to come back.
“When I took over again I just worked on the mental side of things because we didn’t have much time. And all I ask of the players is that they respect their opponents and show commitment.”
That commitment has certainly not been lacking in Dubai, where the Japanese have surprised even Ramos by following up their shock opening-day victory over the Spanish with two more wins, an achievement he believed was beyond them.
“We lost Shusei Yamauchi to a foot injury and he’s a very important player for us,” he said, explaining his cautious optimism regarding Japan’s chances. “He’s such a good player and so vital that I don’t have anyone to replace him. Even so, we’re going to give as much as we have against Portugal and we’ll do justice to the flag.”
Ramos’s remarkable devotion to his adopted homeland runs deep. “I arrived in Japan when I was 20 and I built my life there,” he said. “Then I obtained Japanese nationality and I played for the national side for seven years. I’ve sweated, cried and bled for this country and I consider myself Japanese through and through. I can assure you, though, that I’ll be stepping down after this tournament.” Come what may in Dubai, his charges will be among those hoping he has second thoughts.