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Opinion

Big in Japan, unloved in Australia: Will we ever respect Asian football?

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Expert
26th September, 2021
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One of Australia’s most successful footballers is enjoying another record-breaking season as a key member of one of the biggest clubs in the region, not that many here have noticed.

Mitch Langerak recorded his 19th clean sheet of another hugely successful campaign, as Nagoya Grampus broke the long-standing record for the most clean sheets in a single J. League season in their 1-0 win over Oita Trinita on Sunday.

The Aussie custodian didn’t have a whole lot to do on a typically soggy autumn afternoon in Toyota, but his value to Nagoya Grampus was underlined by a terrible piece of goalkeeping from experienced counterpart Shun Takagi.

When Oita won an early throw-in on the halfway line, Yuki Kagawa opted to hurl it backwards towards teammate Yuto Misao on the edge of his penalty area.

With an air of predictability, Misao turned and passed the ball backwards towards Takagi, whose heavy touch forced a goalmouth scramble that was eventually turned home by Nagoya midfielder Sho Inagaki for the only goal of the game.

It was a ridiculous winner to concede but the sort of goal you see reasonably often in the J.League, and perhaps goes some way towards explaining why certain clubs are happy to expend an international spot on a foreign goalkeeper.

At any rate, Langerak did what little he had to do with his usual aplomb, as Nagoya broke the record Yokohama F. Marinos originally set for most clean sheets way back in 1995.

This is the club of Gary Lineker, Arsene Wenger, Dragan Stojkovic and Keisuke Honda, it’s worth remembering, to say nothing of one of the Japanese football’s genuine cult heroes in Josh Kennedy – whose goals fired Nagoya to their solitary J.League title in 2010.

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StatsPerform journalist Sacha Pisani wrote a fantastic piece on Langerak during the week in which the Queensland-born goalkeeper admitted he’s enjoying his football more than ever.

It’s just a shame his exploits in Japan seem to have gone largely unnoticed by the majority of the Australian football public.

Perhaps Kevin Muscat can help change attitudes. The former Melbourne Victory coach is in the thick of it as his F. Marinos side tries desperately to reel in neighbours Kawasaki Frontale at the top of the table.

Just how difficult it is to win games in the Japanese top-flight was illustrated on Saturday night when bottom club Yokohama FC held their hated city rivals F. Marinos to a 2-2 draw at Mitsuzawa Stadium.

Muscat’s men did well to fight back from a one-goal deficit as they struggled to deal with the pace and penetration of Yokohama FC’s new fleet-footed Brazilian striker Saulo Mineiro.

Despite midfielder Kota Watanabe’s dismissal with 17 minutes remaining, F. Marinos looked like they were heading for a much-needed three points when Daizen Maeda slotted home a few minutes later.

That was until Saulo scrambled home in the final minute to give the Tricolore a bloody nose and Muscat another headache, as he battles to bridge the nine-point gap to table-toppers and defending champions Kawasaki.

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It looks increasingly unlikely F. Marinos will reel in Kanagawa rivals Frontale, but we shouldn’t discount just how big a deal it is for Muscat to have followed his predecessor Ange Postecoglou into such a high-profile job.

It says a lot about us as a football culture that referee Jarred Gillett’s debut in the English Premier League was arguably our biggest football story of the week.

Gillett’s an outstanding referee who deserves his chance in the English top tier, but the coverage of his and Cam Devlin’s debut for Scottish side Hearts is a reminder of how in thrall we are to football from English-speaking parts of the world.

So be it, I suppose. I’m sure Langerak and Muscat have got better things to worry about than whether anyone’s tuning in back home.

But after Josh Kennedy and Ange Postecoglou blazed a trail for their fellow Aussies, it feels like we’re still no closer to understanding just how impressive it is to achieve success in Japan.

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