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GRAHAME L. JONES / ON SOCCER

Japanese official criticizes league

Motoaki Inukai, president of the Japanese Football Association, says players do not take enough shots on goal and calls the league 'boring.'

July 26, 2009|GRAHAME L. JONES

Strange does not begin to describe the weird cast of characters that have roamed across the soccer landscape in the last week or two.

How often, for instance, does any sport bring together an irate Japanese official; a confused Brazilian man in his underwear; a murderous housewife in Malaysia; a 12-year-old boy in Bolivia; Aragorn, King of Gondor; 11 hapless Spaniards; and a decidedly odd Swede?

We begin with a fellow named Motoaki Inukai, who just happens to be president of the Japanese Football Assn. Not long ago, Inukai had a few choice words about the Japanese league.

"I was informed by the Brazilian federation that players in that country have taken around 300,000 shots at goal before turning professional," he told reporters in Tokyo.

"Here in Japan, it's only about 5,000. That's 60 times less. At a young age, players aren't used to shooting. That is why the J-League is boring -- there aren't enough shots on goal. It's no wonder we can't score goals."

The J-League is not really boring, of course, just as not everything that Brazilians do is perfect. Witness the case of Brazilian striker Marquinhos, who plays in Japan for the Kashima Antlers.

He took the field for a recent game and then noticed that he had put his shorts on back to front. There was only one thing to do.

Unperturbed by the watching crowd, Marquinhos took off his shorts and put them on again, this time the right way round.

Kazumi Ohigashi, the club president, was not amused. "You've got to check these things before the match," he told Nikkansports newspaper. "I'd like him to be more organized."

The Kashima Antlers' opponent that day was Kawasaki Frontale, so in a sense Marquinhos could have been guilty of full Frontale semi-nudity. Sorry.

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The knives are out

Over in Kuala Lumpur, meanwhile, things took a more serious turn when an unidentified man returned home a tad late after going to watch Manchester United play Malaysia.

When he finally showed up sometime after midnight, his irate and also unidentified wife greeted him at the door by stabbing him twice in the chest with a kitchen knife.

Abdul Jalil Hassan, the regional police chief, said the woman then took her husband to a hospital, where doctors reported the incident to authorities.

The man is recovering and, according to the Associated Press account, "police have not decided whether to charge the woman with any offense."

Perhaps they believe she has been punished enough by being married to a ManU fan.

Weird as that may seem, it was no stranger than the decision made by Julio Cesar Baldivieso in Bolivia the other day.

Baldivieso, who played for Bolivia in the 1994 World Cup in the United States, was, until a day or two ago, coach of the Bolivian first-division club Aurora.

Last Sunday, Baldivieso sent his son into a game against La Paz FC as a late substitute. On the surface, there was nothing wrong with that, except that Mauricio Baldivieso was only 12 -- he turned 13 on Wednesday.

Fans of the team from Cochabamba were not upset, even though Aurora lost, but when the club's management ordered Baldivieso not to play his son again, he quit and took the boy with him.

"Sadly, a lot of people didn't like my son's debut," he said. "I'm not going to be told whether I play someone from my family or not. The country and the world need to know that in Bolivia talented youngsters get their legs cut off, to make room for foreign players, no doubt, or because of personal grudges."

Mauricio Baldivieso is believed to be the youngest player to appear in a top-flight match in South America.

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Viggo and Sven

Still in South America, we come to actor Viggo Mortensen, perhaps best known for his role as Aragorn, King of Gondor, in the movie version of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic "Lord of the Rings."

Although New York-born, Mortensen spent his childhood in Buenos Aires, where he became an impassioned fan of the Argentine club San Lorenzo de Almagro.

San Lorenzo has run into some financial difficulties, and Reuters reported last week that Mortensen had kicked in $80,000 to help clear one debt.

The Academy Award nominee has carried the San Lorenzo banner far and wide, according to England's FourFourTwo magazine.

He constantly sported a San Lorenzo shirt at the Cannes Film Festival, he has handed out San Lorenzo pennants to every acquaintance in Hollywood, and he draped actress Cate Blanchett in a San Lorenzo flag at the 2008 Oscars.

Over in Spain, meanwhile, the new season is still several weeks away, but third-division Navata can only wish it had a savior such as Mortensen.

Navata played a preseason friendly against Villarreal, which finished fifth in La Liga last season, and came away shattered after losing, 27-0.

All of which brings us to Sven-Goran Eriksson, who last week made a move that put all the other strange news into the shade.

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