from Japan shock victory on Germany in Qatar on Wednesday triggered late night parties and calls for marking Samurai Blue’s momentous achievement in their World Cup 2022 opening with a public holiday.
The clock was approaching midnight when Takuma Asano fired Japan’s winner into the roof of the net at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha – a result that had seemed impossible after Japan’s poor first half, playing in their seventh straight. world Cup.
For fans of a certain age, the 2-1 victory helped banish painful memories of another decisive match in Doha nearly three decades ago. It’s there that Japan came minutes after qualifying for their first World Cup, only to be denied qualification for USA 1994 by an equalizer in stoppage time from their opponents, Iraq.
Wednesday’s win sparked impromptu celebrations at the famous Shibuya crossing and calls on Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to follow Saudi Arabia’s example by calling for a public holiday.
Yui Sasaki, a Tokyo office worker, was among hundreds of fans who watched the match at a public venue in the capital. Holding back tears, Sasaki told the Asahi Shimbun, “Honestly, before the game, I thought it would take a miracle to Japan to win.”
Kishida invited derision on social media after a tweet appeared on his official account as the match unfolded in which he mentioned his visit to the Imperial Palace earlier in the day. “I expressed my gratitude for a bountiful harvest and prayed for the prosperity of the imperial family and the peace of the nation,” he wrote. The response from social media users: why don’t you watch football?
But Kishida, whose approval ratings are at an all-time high over his party’s ties to the controversial Unification Church, managed to capture the national mood on Thursday morning. “I watched the game on TV…it was a wonderful victory,” he told reporters. “I hope they can continue and qualify for the round of 16.”
Among the Japanese public figures congratulating the team on Twitter was tennis player Kei Nishikori, who simply posted a row of eight Hinomaru flags.
The victory grabbed the headlines of broadsheets and tabloids, with some noting that the agony of 29 years ago had been replaced in the national consciousness by the “miracle of Doha”.
Beneath the headlines marking Japan’s ‘memorable’ and ‘stunning’ victory over the four-time World Cup winners, the media praised coach Hajime Moriyasu – a squad member whose dreams had been smashed in Doha 29 years earlier – whose five-half time substitutions proved to be a stroke of genius.
Social media praised Asano, who plays for German Bundesliga club VfL Bochum, and fellow Japanese goalscorer Ritsu Doan, who also plays for his soccer club. Germany with SC Freiburg.
Some attributed Japan’s victory to Taiyo, a river otter at a Tokyo aquarium who predicted the outcome the day before the game after placing a miniature soccer ball in a blue bucket marked with the Japanese flag, snubbing a red one with the German flag and a yellow one that was labeled “draw”, according to the Kyodo news agency.
Yujiro Nakao, a Tokyo businessman and longtime Samurai Blue supporter, said the team showed courage in refusing to give up after a “hopeless” first half. “In the second half they changed tactics and started attacking more,” said Nakao, who watched the home game with his wife.
“Moriyasu has been criticized a lot in the past, but he has shown he can be a good strategist. I predict – I hope – that we can beat Costa Rica and draw against Spain. I will cheer them on .
Misae Minami, a teacher in Osaka, said she felt Japan would prove the experts wrong. “Most people expected Germany to win, but I was hopeful because young Japanese players have improved tremendously, and many of them are playing for German clubs. You could see that our players are getting stronger mentally and physically because they refused to give up even after Germany scored first.
Japan are now dreaming of a place in the last 16 for the fourth time, and qualifying for the quarter-finals for the first time. While the game against Germany kicked off at 10 p.m. local time on Wednesday, the time difference will be milder for Japanese fans when their side meet Costa Rica early on Sunday evening.
“I can’t wait for the next game,” Minami said. “We’re going to win this one too!”