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(Last Updated: 08 Aug 2004 )
This is a brief summary of my recent trip to Japan as captain of the NZ Men's Canoe Polo team which competed at the 2004 World Championships in Miyoshi. We were overseas from July 3 until July 27, 2004.
I should point out that this is very much my perspective on things - for comments from other people, check out the New Zealand Canoe Polo Forum.
We got 13th at the World Canoe Polo Champs, which was an OK result (better than our ranking of 19th) but not as good as we'd hoped for, as our goal was top 8. As it turned out, we were really close to achieving that (more below) but things didn't quite work out for us.
But the trip was really good. Japan was extremely hot. In Awara where we spent the first couple of weeks it was normally around 35-36 degrees. In Toyota City and Miyoshi where the World Champs were held it was between 35 and 39 degrees each day we were there. Coming back to Christchurch - even in winter - is actually a very nice change!
We had a really good buildup in Awara (Fukui prefecture/region) which included beating the Japan Under-21 team several times, good wins against Canada and the United States, a win against Australia (a top-6 country, and it was the first NZ win against them since 1996) and just barely losing to Italy (another top-6 team), and a couple of good games against Great Britain, the World Champions from the previous Worlds. Also (since I was the Men's captain) I got on Japanese TV when I visited a local school and talked to them about canoe polo and New Zealand and even signed some autographs. Awara's a pretty backwater place and for some of the kids it was the first time they had seen a westerner up close, and they were amazed at how big we were.
It was a really cool experience seeing the people, the architecture, the wildlife, learning to deal with the heat, and avoiding smacking my head on the door frames. Some of the guys got REALLY sunburned (partly due to the theory that Japan wouldn't have an ozone hole). I also got to have a go at Japanese Taiko drumming, and took part in a traditional tea ceremony in Fukui city.
There was some flooding in the area while we were there too, after a night of really heavy rain and a big electrical storm. It didn't affect us too much though, and since the Awara courts had floating pontoons and goals it didn't matter the next day that the water had risen at least 30cm.
We spent the last week traveling between the neighbouring cities of Toyota, home of the Toyota Motor Company, where our hotel was, and Miyoshi, the World Champs venue. It seems that really both places are kind of suburbs of Nagoya, which is enormous.
The opening ceremony for the World Champs was Wednesday 21 July. I was the NZ flag bearer, which was pretty cool.
Day 1 of the World Champs (Thursday) was a bit rough for the NZ Men. For me it started at 3am when I work up to discover I was sick with diarrhoea! Bad timing! As it turned out it wasn't too serious and I was still able to play (but it did tire me out a lot and I didn't really feel at my peak). We were in the "pool of death" where every game was a hard game, unlike all the other pools which included some softer teams. This was partly because of NZ's poor seeding going in. First game was against Netherlands, we lost 2-7. We didn't play as well as we would have liked, although the Dutch are very good (they eventually won the whole thing). There's a picture with me in it from this game on the Worlds website.
(we played in black, I'm #1).
The second game was against Japan, and we lost 2-4. We played a bit better but still not to our best. Third game was against Spain and we needed to win to retain a chance of qualifying in the top 8 after the first round. We scored first and got up to be 3-1 at half time but then they scored twice early in the second half and we had to push hard for the win and ended up conceding another two goals; final score 3-5. Spain eventually went on to come 7th. At the end of the day I was absolutely wasted, from the heat and from the intensity of the games and from being sick.
The next day we had a game against Ireland (who eventually came 10th). It was very tricky actually. We wanted to qualify 4th in our pool but not 3rd or 5th, in order to get an easier path through the second round. To do that we figured that we had to beat Ireland by at least 3 goals but not score more than 6. We got to 5-1 up and things were going to plan and we pretty much just fooled around trying NOT to score for a bit, but in the process they scored 3 goals in a row which completely wrecked our plan. We ended up winning 7-6 but we did it the hard way really. In fact we scored 8 goals, but one of Nick's shots rebounded from a bar behind the net and bounced straight out of the goal again. The refs made some mysterious call out of that but we were robbed of a goal - although, to be fair, the same thing happened to the Dutch when they played against us.
As it turns out, we probably would have been better just going for a good solid win and neve putting the brakes on (4th in our group would have given us an easier 2nd-round pool than 3rd, but if we'd scored enough goals and come 3rd that might have put Japan - our nemesis team - in a different group. But it's hard to know for sure!)
In the afternoon we beat USA 8-2, the first game of the second round. I sat that one out to help with recovery because we knew it would be an easier game. We didn't play that well, even though it was a comprehensive win, and as it turned out we needed to have scored more goals against them to help our goal difference.
Saturday was a big day. We started by losing to Japan. As I said they are kind of our nemesis team. They're fairly close to us in ability but they had obviously completely thought through how to deal with our offense (they had videoed all our buildup games in Awara against their Under-21s but had refused to play us there themselves). It was 0-1 until near the end and then blew out to 0-3 because again we had to push harder to try for the win which opened up our defense a little. That meant we had to beat Canada and Portugal in order to qualify second in our pool and still have a chance at top 8 (we would have been able to play for 9th/10th with the winner of that playing the 7th/8th loser for 8th place). We beat Canada 5-0 and then an hour after that we played Portugal (our games were scheduled wrong and we almost had to play them back to back, which made it difficult trying to recover quickly in the heat between the two games). We beat Portugal 4-1 in what may have been our best and most consistent game of the tournament (Portugal eventually went on to come 8th, so this was a very good result for us).
That left us with 3 wins from 4 games in our pool. Portugal and Japan
still had to play the last pool game. Japan at that point had no 2nd round
losses and Portugal had lost only to us. We needed Japan to beat or draw
with Portugal and we'd get through. But Japan played poorly and lost 2-3,
in what was an agonising game for us to watch. That meant that the three
top teams in our pool had the same points, but we had the worst goal difference,
in spite (I think) of us conceding fewer goals than anyone else in our pool. We didn't
score enough against USA the day before. So that was the end of our tournament
really, at least as far as having a shot at a top 8 finish. :-(
We were unlucky on goal difference in both the first AND the second rounds, where in each case we had the same number of points (based on win/loss/draw results) as other teams, but on countback had not scored enough goals!
We played Hong Kong China in the evening and won 10-0. We had the final game, the 13th/14th play-off, on Sunday morning against Canada. It was 3-3 at full time and went to golden goal overtime, which we eventually won in the second period of overtime, which was kind of nerve-wracking, although to be honest it never looked like we would lose.
So our final position at the World Champs was 13th, but in the process we had beaten a couple of the teams who finished ahead of us. I think we were a little unlucky and our true ranking should have been somewhere between 8th and 10th. But it was still a cool experience, and I got to watch and play some pretty good polo. I got my share of goals and assists, and it was a great team to be part of.
The winners were Netherlands, who beat Germany in a cool final. Third was Great Britain, then France. Those 4 teams were definitely a cut above everyone else. 5th to 13th was a lot more even. Italy was 5th, then Australia, then Spain, Portugal, Chinese Taipei, Ireland, Japan, Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada. I'm not sure of the rankings below that. We kind of finished near the end of the "good" teams.
The NZ women's team did very well, finishing 6th behind Great Britain, Germany, France, Japan and Australia, which was good enough to qualify for next year's World Games, the inaugural competition for non-Olympic sports, limited to the world's top 6 teams in each sport.
I've got heaps of photos from the trip. Here are some. I may post more if I get the chance.
- Sunburn - not mine!
- Sweat after an off-the-water session at Awara
- One of the Awara courts, Japan U-21 playing USA
- Me having a go at Taiko drumming
- Me with the NZ flag at the World Champs opening ceremony
- On defense against Spain [I'm #1]
- On defense against Canada
Plenty more pictures where those came from...
Overall, very cool experience, glad I went, now looking forward to life with a whole lot less training! But it was a great team to be part of, with a very good team spirit and "camaraderie". And it seemed to me that everyone had matured a lot in building up to the tour and it was a pleasure training, touring and competing with such a great, solid bunch of guys (Nick deserves a special mention for not only the training efforts but also the extra time he put in on tour coding video analysis - and soaking up advice and insights from the coaches of certain other international teams!).
I was proud to be part of the team, let alone captain, and it was obvious that everyone had put in a lot of hard work. I honestly think we were unlucky not to have done better. If only we had just a little more consistency...
And now I guess it's back to reality again...
P.S. Two people I'd particularly like to thank are Kazumi and Mio.
I met Kazumi at the Catholic Church in Fukui city. The first time I got there was on Sunday the day after arriving in Japan. It was a fascinating trip to Mass, which involved getting on the right bus in Awara, miscommunicating with the driver and getting off the bus, only to realise as it drove away that it was the right bus after all; then walking; then hitching to the Awara train station; then riding the train to Fukui; then walking past the old Fukui castle and moat; then showing up at the wrong church, which was occupied by some friendly Japanese Presbyterians who directed me down the road and around the corner; then finally arriving at the only Catholic church in the district. I was early for Mass and Kazumi was kind enough to show me around some of the nearby Fukui sights, including a fascinating interlude at a beautiful walled garden with a lovely wooden house overlooking a pond. The house is older than the nation of New Zealand. It was also in this house that I got to take part part in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. And thanks to Kazumi showing me the International Visitors' Centre in Fukui, I was the envy of the team because I was the first one to find internet access!
I met Mio after going to Mass in Seishin (which I think is a suburb of Toyota City) on the evening of the World Champs closing ceremony. He also looked after me and very kindly gave me a ride back to our hotel in Toyota City. In doing so he not only saved me a lot of trouble trying to find my own way back, but also enabled me to watch from the hotel the absolutely massive fireworks display that happened to be going on in Toyota City that night, while the rest of the team were still on their way back from the closing ceremony.
There are not very many Catholics in Japan but the ones I met looked after me very well,
and even though I was on the other side of the world from where I have lived all my life, I felt very
much at home in the two Catholic parishes I visited.
11/7/04: vs Jap U-21, 4-2, 3-1.
12/7/04: vs Jap U-21, 4-3; vs USA, 10-2; vs Jap U-21, 4-3 (golden goal).
13/7/04: vs USA, 11-0; vs Can U-21, 9-1, then 10-0, then vs Jap U-21, 4-2 and 9-0.
14/7/04: vs Canada 7-2; vs Japan U-21, 5-0.
15/7/04: vs Canada 5-1; vs Australia 1-3.
16/7/04: vs Jap U-21 8-3; vs Australia 3-2; vs Australia 1-3.
17/7/04: vs Canada 3-2; vs Italy 3-4; vs USA 6-2; vs GB 2-8; vs Jap U-21 5-4.
18/7/04: vs GB 0-4; vs Australia 2-4; vs Italy 2-5.
Unfortunately the stats aren't as comprehensive as I'd like - no assist stats, for instance. But there were very few goals that weren't the result of solid team effort.
22/7/04: vs Netherlands 2-7 (Jimmy, Tom); vs Japan 2-4 (Nick, James); vs Spain 3-5 (Nick 2, Dean).
23/7/04: vs Ireland 7-6 (Dean 3, Nick 2 [+1 not called], Jimmy 1, James 1); vs USA 8-2 (Paul, Timon, Ben, Tom, James, Nick 3)
24/7/04: vs Japan 0-3; vs Canada 5-0 (Dean 2, James, Paul, Tom); vs Portugal 4-1 (Jimmy, Nick 2, Tom); vs Hong Kong China 10-0 (Dean 3, Cameron, Nick 3, Tom, Jimmy, Ben).
25/7/04: vs Canada 4-3 (Dean, James, Nick and someone else)
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