“Special? No, no, no,” said Japan coach Ruy Ramos emphatically when asked by FIFA.com if Tuesday’s group match against Brazil, the country of his birth, holds any special significance for him. “I’m Japanese and I’ll be defending my country.”
Anyone listening to Ramos’ perfect Portuguese, which is laced with typical Rio expressions, might be surprised to learn that for the last 34 years of his life have been inextricably linked with Japan, the land he decamped to in the late 1970s to pursue his playing career.
“There was hardly anything back then, just an amateur league and earth pitches. That was it,” recalled Ramos, whose love for his adopted homeland is symbolised by a tattoo of the Japanese flag on his shoulder.
The Brazilian exile has stayed put ever since, taking out Japanese nationality in 1988, making several appearances for the national team and going on to become one of the first idols of the professional J-League, winning back-to-back league titles in 1993 and 1994.
Later switching to beach soccer, he was in charge of the Japan side that contested the first FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, held in his home city of Rio in 2005, steering them to fourth place, their highest placing in the competition to date.
There then followed a stint with J-League outfit Tokyo Verdy. But when that came to an end, he was lured back to national beach soccer team by three of the players who lined up for him at Rio 2005 and are still in the team today, a mark of the high regard in which the Brazilian-born tactician is held.
“I’m hard on the boys. I shout, I curse and I tell them off,” he said, shortly after emerging from the post mortem on Sunday’s 4-2 reverse to Ukraine, which led to the elimination of the Asian champions from Ravenna/Italy 2011.
Give me five
As far as the coach is concerned, however, that loss did not hurt as much as the 3-2 defeat to Mexico two days earlier. “With all due respect, that was a game we would have won eight times out of ten. And it just so happened that one of the two times we’d lose was here at the World Cup,” Ramos lamented.
“When we went scoreless in the second period of that game I swear I had no idea what to do about it. Even today it keeps me awake. I tell my players not to let defeats get them down, to learn from their mistakes and then move on. The funny thing is, I’m the one who can’t move on.”
Those two narrow defeats have brought Japan’s World Cup bid to a frustratingly premature end, leaving them with no option but to try and go out on a high note against Brazil.
“At least we can relax and play without fear, like we did against Ukraine,” Ramos said, voicing his hopes for Tuesday’s tie before sounding an ironic note about his side’s chances of fulfilling them. “I said to the players, ‘Are we going to lose 10-5?’. If we score five against Brazil, I’ll be happy, but my team doesn’t shoot so how are we going to score?”
Whatever happens out on the pitch, Ramos assured that his emotions will be well under control when the Brazilian national anthem sounds, as will those of his assistant coach Osmar Moreira, who has been playing beach soccer in the national league for the last five years, speaks the language fluently and will also be taking out Japanese citizenship next year.
“Let me make it clear, though, for me there is one thing special about taking on Brazil,” added Ramos, setting the record straight. “It’s not because I’m from Brazil, but because they’re the best team in the world. This is a great opportunity for us to step up a level. Who knows when we’ll get another chance to play against a team like this. That’s what makes it a special game.”