Football: Lineker in need of fine tuning: Richard Williams sees the Japanese team, Grampus Eight, lose 2-1 at Leeds United

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The Independent Online
THE FIRST thing you want to know, of course, is this: do Nagoya Grampus Eight, standard-bearers of the new Japanese league, have their own pop record? Happily for the compilers of those hilarious anthologies of football songs, but perhaps less fortunately for music fans, the answer is yes. Played over the public address system before the start of yesterday's match, the Grampus lyric, such as it is, seems to be firmly based on the presumably untranslatable phrase 'Here we go'. But since the popular end at San Siro prefaces each Milan game with 'You'll Never Walk Alone' and the fans of Ajax are prone to burst into a chorus of 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life', why should the football fans of Nagoya not join in the great lingua franca of the terraces?

On the evidence of yesterday's fixture, played as a benefit for Leeds' underprivileged children at the behest of the Lord Mayor, their other borrowing from the English game is an intermittent ability to pass the ball accurately. No one should underestimate the ability of the Japanese to get these things right sooner than expected, but in this early phase of its development the J-League will probably resemble the ill-fated attempt to get professional soccer off the ground in the United States during the 1970s.

Gary Lineker looked lean and fit enough, but at 32 he has lost the acceleration that put the edge on his remarkable ability to think one move ahead. Playing in front of Grampus Eight's five-man midfield, he only seemed genuinely in tune with Jorge, one of the team's two Brazilians, a playmaker who carries the responsibility of guiding the novices. In the first half, though, the 31-year-old Chris Whyte easily stifled Lineker's familiar darts and feints, finding time to score Leeds' two goals, with headers in the 38th and 43rd minutes, before giving way to David Wetherall.

It was Wetherall, in fact, who let the Japanese team back into the match in the 54th minute, when Jorge cut off his poor pass out of defence, advanced on Lukic and chipped easily over the goalkeeper's lunge. It was a fair reward for a polished player, and for a team whose league season is still three weeks away.

Grampus Eight's second Brazilian, Garca, looked a rather cumbersome centre-half, although neither Noel Whelan nor, late in the game, Lee Chapman took advantage. Dirk Havenaar, the Japanese team's Dutch goalkeeper, probably should have cut out the corner by Kevin Sharp from which Whyte scored the second goal, but otherwise looked sound. The pick of the home-bred players was Shigeo Sawairi, the captain, a rangy left-sided midfield player.

The competitive seriousness of the match can be gauged from the fact that Noel Whelan, the centre-forward, returned in the 88th minute after being substituted in the 69th. But David Rocastle and Rod Wallace were clearly trying to play themselves back into form and fitness, while Gary McAllister used the opportunity to encourage Whelan and Jamie Forrester, each with 29 reserve and youth-team goals this season.

A pleasant afternoon's entertainment for a decent crowd of 10,886, then, and a useful exercise for the visitors; but Lineker will have to work hard to emulate in Nagoya the impact Pele once made in New York, and it will probably be a while before the J-League can rival Serie A for the attention of Channel 4's Sunday afternoon schedulers.

Leeds United: J Lukic; A Couzens, K Sharp, M Tinkler (C Shutt, 45 min), J Newsome, C Whyte (D Wetherall, 45 min), D Rocastle, J Forrester (Rod Wallace, 45 min), N Whelan (L Chapman, 69 min), G McAllister, S Hodge (N Whelan, 88 min). Sub not used: P Pettinger (gk). Manager: H Wilkinson.

Nagoya Grampus Eight: D Havenaar; T Nakanishi, H Fujikawa (N Takamoto, 84 min), S Egawa, Garca, M Tsuruta (M Shimamura, 84 min), M Yonekura, T Asano, Jorge, G Lineker, S Sawairi (Y Miriyama, 84 min). Subs not used: T Kosugi, Y Ito. Manager: R Hiraki.

Referee: T Holbrook (West Midlands).

Goals: Whyte (1-0, 38 min); Whyte (2-0, 43 min); Jorge (2-1, 54 min).

(Photograph omitted)

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