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Kano brings Brazilian past to Japan’s future

Chonburi: Michihisa Kano is on the verge of guiding Japan to the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship Thailand 2019 title, and, if his side are successful, a small piece of the achievement will have been made in Brazil.

Zico, Kazuyoshi Miura, Ruy Ramos and Marcus Tulio Tanaka are names that readily spring to mind when considering the footballing connections between Japan and Brazil, but Kano can be added to the list.

The 43-year-old is the head coach of an U-16 women’s national team which stands 90 minutes of football away from a Continental title, with a place at the FIFA Women’s World Cup India 2020 already secured.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s tournament decider against DPR Korea, Kano told about the impact of his time in Brazil, as well as his approach to guiding the next generation of Japanese stars.

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Now in charge of a squad of teenagers, Kano was once himself a youngster on a football odyssey when, in 1996, he arrived in the home of the 1994 FIFA World Cup winners, spending time with the U-20 team of SE Palmeiras, then Ocasco FC’s senior side.

“After I graduated from high school, I went to Brazil for three and half years,” said Kano

“Over there I learnt everything about football and also a lot about life, including things such as enjoyment and regrets.”

Sao Paulo was home, and his time in the state with the motto of ‘let great things be done for Brazil’ – and which lived up to it by producing the likes of Rivelino, Roberto Carlos and Neymar - left an indelible mark.

“I learnt many things there about the origins of football,” Kano explained.

“The time I spent in Brazil made me prioritise the player's individuality. That means the playing style and also the personality.

“When you talk now about the youth football scene, the personality of the player - regardless of gender - has to be respected and that links to playing style in my opinion. Therefore, my football philosophy is to engage these elements.”

While individuality is encouraged by Kano, whose playing career finished with Sagawa Express Osaka, Japan’s progress in Chonburi has been underpinned by teamwork, togetherness and a belief that all 23 squad members can and will be called upon to deliver in meaningful matches.

While many sides have a set starting line-up that seldom changes, the use of an entire squad list, including goalkeepers, has become common practice for Japanese sides at several continental youth tournaments in recent years.

With a long list of women’s youth successes, including world titles at both U-17 and U-20 levels, and a record of 19 goals scored and none conceded during the current competition, Japan’s approach marries on-field results with the capacity to expose as many players as possible to intense competition.

“I'm thinking that all 23 players I called up for this tournament can fight in the game,” Kano said.

“One of the ideas in youth football in Japan is to give the players as many international matches as possible, so it is important for the players to experience such games, then bring them back home to realise what they have to do to be better in their normal training. This is our whole nation's approach towards the youth players."

“Because it is a game, there is always some risk, so the players can learn many things and develop from the circumstances. As the competition level goes up like at an AFC U-16 tournament from the group stage to the knockout round, of course the players can play against tougher opponents and also, they can feel more pressure.

“Playing in a final gives the players a lot of experience and development for the future. That's why the players continually need to develop on what they can do, what they are missing and what they have to do right now with long term vision to be able to play in tough moments.

“The difficulty is that you have to win, but our approach is towards the team's balance or positions and these things are the key to build up the team."

While many of Japan’s players look to have exciting long-term futures ahead of them, what is most pressing in the next 24 hours is defeating a DPR Korea side which has emphatically seen off all challengers in the tournament so far.

Hwang Yong-song’s side have won all four of their matches, scoring 20 unanswered goals, many of them spectacular, to put themselves within touching distance of an unprecedented third consecutive title in this age group.

Denying them that record will take a strong performance form Kano’s side, but any Japanese victory will be won their way, according to the head coach.

AFC U-16 Women's Championship Thailand 2019: Semi-final Highlights

“(DPR Korea’s) players have characteristics such as strong physicality, height, speed and technique. They have many talented players and the overall team balance is very good,” admitted Kano.

“Within our style of play and our football concept, we will try our best to erase their strong points and produce our strengths. That is the key for tomorrow's game.”

Win or lose, the mission will continue for Kano, who - a world away from Sao Paulo - hopes to let greats things be done for Japan.

Photos: AFC

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