JAPANESE Ambassador to Jamaica Yasuo Takase and wife Sayoko are two delightful souls.

September 17, 2014 2:00 AM

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They were cordial and inviting, welcoming each person to their Seymour Avenue home in St Andrew on Monday night with handshakes and the customary Japanese bow.

It was clear that the Takases are no novices at entertaining guests. But what was perhaps new to them, is to have representatives of a rival country traipsing around their home.

In a late-evening reception, the Japanese couple welcomed to their home representatives of the Jamaican senior national football team, who will engage Japan in a friendly international in Niigata on October 10.

Ambassador Takase was busy taking pictures, enticing guests to food and drinks, but even as they played the gracious guests, the Jamaicans knew very well that the meeting with Japan on the field of play is very serious business.

And in the midst of small talk, bites of delightful Japanese fare and toasts spearheaded by the ambassador himself, Jamaica head coach Winfried Schaefer's mind was clearly somewhere else.

"Japan game cannot be a test match, we have to go with the best team possible... we can't go testing players as we did in the game against Canada, or we will have our Waterloo, and we cannot afford that," said the German national.

"I think Japan is the best team in Asia, as they are better than South Korea and better than Australia, and better than Iran, and we need our best players for this match... we need time for training to work on tactics and fitness," Schaefer added.

As the final international practice match before the November 10-18 Caribbean Cup to be hosted in Jamaica's picturesque north-west coast town of Montego Bay, the technical staff would have settled on their final squad.

Still, Schaefer is urging the local-based group to keep working hard as the door is never closed.

"We need more work from the local players, they need more training, they must watch the top European leagues on TV and they can learn from that and then they can have a chance for the Caribbean Cup," he urged.

Schaefer's assistant, Jamaican Miquel Coley, said the honeymoon period of testing players is over. It's time for technical, tactical and cohesion within the playing ranks.

"We are expecting to have one of our strongest teams to face Japan. In the game against Canada we were still looking at some players, and obviously that didn't work out in terms of playing at that level.

"Winning (against Japan) is important to some extent, but more importantly, we need to play good football and get the players to gel, and also we want to see the tactical awareness, especially going into a tournament, so it's so much about fine-tuning now," said the Jamaica College Manning Cup coach, who also attended Monday evening's reception.

JFF president Captain Horace Burrell told the Jamaica Observer the Japan encounter comes at a critical juncture in the final stage of preparing for a tough home tournament where the pressure of doing well multiplies.

"This game against Japan is significant on many fronts. It is important because it commemorates 50 years of diplomatic relations between the countries, and it will also serve as a dress rehearsal going into the Caribbean Cup, which will be hosted here in Montego Bay.

"I cannot overemphasise the importance of not only doing well in the Caribbean Cup, but to win it. Therefore, for the Japan friendly, we will be having a top-class team, perhaps the strongest we have seen in a while. The phase of testing players is over as we have seen in Canada recently; it's now down to serious business," Burrell said.

For winning the Caribbean Cup, Jamaica stand a chance of earning automatic berths in the CONCACAF Gold Cup 2015 and the Centennial Copa America to be hosted in the USA in 2016.

Minister with responsibility for sport, Natalie Neita-Headley, revealed that she was particularly pleased with the game as it will commemorate an important milestone, plus it will give the Boyz quality practice ahead of the Caribbean Cup.

"I am ecstatic about the celebration of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries and we look forward to this friendly international match, which we believe will further deepen the relationship that we have had...and while we are going there in good spirits to celebrate, we are going there to fight hard and win and to prepare our athletes for the Caribbean Cup which is coming up," she told the Observer.

The minister also noted that it is an opportunity for the Government of Jamaica to mobilise and engage the diaspora in Japan during the visit of the football team.

"Captain Burrell has told me that teachers working and living in Japan have sought the assistance of the JFF to be able to procure tickets for the match as the match is already sold out. I think the ministry of tourism should, if they haven't already done so, to start making efforts to bring the Jamaican community together and should have them meet and greet the Reggae Boyz," said Neita-Headley.

Jamaica boast a famous victory over Japan, a 2-1 win in both countries' first World Cup back in France in 1998. Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore scored both goals, propelling him to legendary status in the annals of Jamaica's football.

Source: jamaicaobserver.com

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