Olympic Review FootballBlog.co.uk

Japan Football

Japanese Football Stadiums / February 7, 2018

Yokohama striker Kazuyoshi MiuraKazuyoshi Miura is still playing in J2 with Yokohama FC despite the age of 50.

V-Varen Nagasaki and Yokohama FC played to a fairly unremarkable 1-1 draw last Saturday in Japan's second tier, but some fairly remarkable history was made as well.

Kazuyoshi Miura was subbed off in the second half after becoming the became the oldest ever player to feature in a professional game at the age of 50 years and seven days, surpassing English legend Stanley Matthews.

The list of examples to illustrate the time he has been around are as long as a career that started 35 years ago.

When Gary Lineker went to Japan in 1992, Miura was there. When Zico was still dazzling fans in the J.League, he used to face Miura, the one local who could match the foreigners in terms of star power.

Miura led Japan to their first-ever Asian Cup triumph in 1992.

When Miura made his debut for Japan, the country had never won the Asian Cup and never been to the World Cup. Now those figures stand at four and five and still he plays.

It could have gone very differently. Back in 1982, at the age of 15, Kazu left Japan -still a decade away from having a professional league - to go to Brazil. When at school, he had been fascinated by videos of Roberto Rivelino, one of the stars of that 1970 World Cup team.

Despite the historic links between Brazil and Japan, it was not easy for a youngster from Shizouka, the traditional hotbed of Japanese football talent, to settle in South America. Teammates in his youth team Clube Atletico Juventus preferred not to pass and there were plenty of racist taunts. While he improved his technique and physical strength, it still was not going well and he decided, after just over two years, to return home.

1992 Asian Cup finalTaking a last tourist trip to Rio, the teenager walked the back-streets around Maracana Stadium, to see a bunch of kids playing football. Inspired and shamed by a one-legged boy trying to play the game, Kazu decided to stay and play. In true Hollywood style, he never looked back and was soon scoring the winning goal for Quinze de Jau against Corinthians in front of the television cameras. He ended up at Santos before returning home in 1990 as Japan was starting to prepare to launch its first ever professional league in 1993.

Just as he had struggled to adapt in Brazil, he initially had problems back home. His samba style of playing and the desire to dribble and trick, stood out in a Japanese football scene that had been following a German model of development. He was accused of lacking team spirit and his outspoken views and opinions did not win him that many friends off the pitch either.

As well as the flair, there was his trademark "Kazu dance" - an arm-waving, crotch-grabbing goal celebration that even made it to video games - model wife and, at times, outlandish fashion sense. But it was soon his talent and goals that had fans and journalists talking.

With Yomiuri FC, he won the last two titles of the Japan Soccer League in 1991 and 1992 and in the new guise of Verdy Kawasaki, he won the first two of the J.League, being named MVP in the competition's inaugural year. He scored a 100 goals for the club in an eight year spell that was punctuated with a loan to Genoa in Serie A in 1994-95 that started with a broken nose courtesy of Franco Baresi. He scored just once in Italy but at least it came in the derby with Sampdoria.

Miura is widely regarded as one of the top strikers to have played for Japan.

There was then another loan spell with Dinama Zagreb in 1999 that was also nothing to write home to Shizuoka about but he was at least challenging himself and was always learning. After returning from Croatia he has stayed in Japan with Kyoto Purple Sanga, Vissel Kobe and Yokohama, except for a short stint with Sydney FC as a guest player in 2005, helping the Australians finish fifth at the Club World Cup.

Kazu's time with the national team was also a success and he retired in 2000 with 55 goals from 89 games. It started 10 years earlier and in 1992, he was there helping the Samurai Blue to a first Asian Cup title. He was on the pitch the following year to experience the "Agony of Doha."

With Japan on course to qualify for a first World Cup, Iraq scored in the last minute to deprive Kazu and his men the win and a place in the United States (South Korea went instead, giving thanks to what they call the "Miracle of Doha" all the way).

He put that heartbreak to bed with 12 goals on the road to France '98 as Japan qualified for a first-ever World Cup. Shockingly though, he was omitted from the final squad by coach Takeshi Okada. He retired two years later.

It was assumed that his club boots would be soon be joining those from his national team up on the peg but 17 years later, King Kazu is still going, 35 years after he went to Brazil to play football. It is not just about the quantity, it has been a career of rare quality.

Source: www.espnfc.com