Japan’s reign is threatened by the arrival of Team USA
By: Kaz Nagatsuka, Metropolis Magazine (Japan)
Can Japan pull off a back-to-back-to-back?
However you term it, Team Japan will be trying to continue its fantastic run at the 3rd International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Championship in Kawasaki, where it will seek its third consecutive title.
Coming into the July 7-15 competition (often dubbed the American Football World Cup), Japan, which won in Italy in 1999 and Germany in 2003, is once again the favorite to take home the title.
But despite the fact the team will be playing on home soil, it will be no walk in the park. “We didn’t necessarily win that easily in the past two championships,” says Japan coach Toshiaki Abe, “It’ll be tough this time as well.”
One clear obstacle is the presence of the United States, which will be making its first appearance in the six-nation tournament.
Even without top-level NFL players, Team USA is scary. The 45-man lineup includes college stars like quarterback Jeff Ballard of Texas Christian University, who was among the top prospects in April’s NFL draft.
Japan, meanwhile, has assembled its marquee athletes, mainly from the X League, the country’s top football league. Of the various positions, Abe is likely to have the most confidence about his quarterbacks.
Tetsuo Takata, of the Matsushita Electrics Impulse, is a strong-armed signal-caller who led his Ritsumeikan University Panthers to their second straight national college championship in the Koshien Bowl five years ago, also winning the Mills Trophy for the season’s most valuable college player.
Kentaro Namiki, of Asahi Beer Silver Star, is a swift, athletic quarterback originally from Waseda University who played for the Cologne Centurions in NFL Europe in 2004 and 2005.
Onward Skylarks veteran Yuichi Tomizawa, who guided Team Japan to their second title as starting quarterback three years ago, is noted for his passing ability and composure.
The format will be a round-robin first round, which consists of two groups. The winner of each group will meet in the championship.
Japan, which opens the tournament with a game against France on July 7 at Todoroki Stadium, is in Pool 1 with Sweden and France, while the United States is in Pool 2 with Germany and South Korea. All the games except the opening and final ones will be played at Kawasaki Stadium.