It is impossible for Japan supporters to imagine their side without Yuji Nakazawa. The uncompromising centre-back has, after all, represented the Samurai Blue in a decade, won over 100 caps and two AFC Asian Cups. Feirce in the tackle and excellent in the air at both ends, the 32-year-old is his nation’s captain and somebody coach Takeshi Okada relies upon heavily.
Nakazawa wrote in his high-school notebook: “I will play for Japan in the World Cup and captain my country one day.” But if others thought he was being overly ambitious, he swiftly began hinting that he was capable of realising both dreams.
Curiously, Nakazawa headed to Brazil in 1996 to develop his game. Physically strong, he became far more comfortable on the ball during his time with America-MG. He returned to his homeland and signed for Verdy Kawasaki, who are now known as Tokyo Verdy, as a trainee in 1999, but was quickly rewarded with a professional contract.
He was the revelation of 1999 campaign in Japan, playing 28 matches and scoring once. Even then, in his rookie season, he was a vocal presence on the field.
Nakazawa moved on to Yokohama Marinos in 2002, and played under current Japan coach Takeshi Okada, one of his biggest admirers, for three years from 2003. Bomba, as he is nicknamed because of his hairstyle, helped his team win the J.League in 2003 and 2004, and was named as the tournament’s player of the year in the latter.
Yokohama have failed to hit those heights thereafter, but Nakazawa has remained their key player and made the J.League’s team of the season on an impressive five occasions.
Nakazawa was overlooked for the 2002 FIFA World Cup™, but was a mainstay of the team under Zico’s four-year rule, participating in all of Japan’s three matches at Germany 2006. He surprisingly retured from international football following the tournament, but did not take too much persuasion to retract his decision.
The Yoshikawa native became only the third Japanese player to reach 100 appearances earlier this year, and the Samurai Blue’s hopes of a successful run in South Africa could rest heavily on the broad shoulders of the prolific defender.