This edition of the FIFA World Cup has already surprised us with the shocking exits of big fishes like Germany, Spain, Argentina and Portugal. The tournament being held in Russia has been even labelled ‘the world cup of the underdogs’ for the reason that there are some unexpected teams who have made it to the quarterfinals.
It is exciting to see the dark horses have a shot at the big prize, but World Cup also have given us some heartbreaking moments.
The elimination of teams like Morocco, Iran, Senegal, Nigeria, etc despite fighting hard was too painful for anyone who loves the game.
One such team who saw their dreams fall down even after putting up a great performance was Japan. The Samurais were 2-0 up against their round of 16 opponents Belgium at one point of the game, but a quick turn of things saw them being knocked out when the final whistle was blown.
Japan might be going home with nothing but empty hands and broken hearts. However, they have left some big lessons for every one of us to learn.
Here are three things that we all should learn from the Asian side and its fans:
A man should not be judged by how he is during his good times, but by how he faces the bad tides. And if Japan were to be deduced by that, they deserve to be treated with the utmost respect.
When Nacer Chadli sealed a stunning comeback win for Belgium with what was literally the last kick of the game, the whole nation of Japan was in heartbreak. But they held back their disappointment, congratulated their opponents, thanked the fans for the support and left the pitch with empty hands and a billion hearts.
Many of us find it difficult to even eat when we are facing tough times, but the Japan faithful cleaned up the stadium despite witnessing their team fall down in the final minute of the match.
Back in the dressing room, the Samurai Blues did the same. A tidy, neat room and a thank you note in Russian were what the officials found when they went to check the dressing room which was occupied by the Japan team. A truly heart melting site.
And don’t forget all those small but beautiful things they did like singing Anime songs with the Senegal fans.
#2 The fight to win attitude
Japan was very much criticised for refusing to make a forward pass in the final minutes of their final group stage against Poland despite trailing by one goal. However, what they did in the pre-quarters against Belgium was completely different.
They were aware of Belgium’s flaws and knew exactly where to strike. They made sure that the team’s defence was intact and were clinical when they got their chance.
Japan didn’t stop once Genki Haraguchi gave his side the lead. They kept looking for the right opportunity to strike again and within no time they did. Just after four minutes of the first goal, Takashi Inui doubled the side’s lead with an exceptional strike.
In a match where many had written of Japan even before the kick-off, it seemed that they were going to cause some serious upset and that too in a very convincing manner. However, a timely double substitution and a goal put Belgium right back in the game.
Another five minutes were all it took for the Red Devils to equalise. It seemed better for Japan to defend hard and see off the ninety minutes. Astonishingly they didn’t.
Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa, two of Japan’s most experienced players, received a lot of stick for trying to go for a cross into the Belgium box rather than keeping the ball and waiting for the final whistle when the Asian side got a last minute corner.
That corner was received as a result of Thibaut Courtois making a solid save to deny an equally good freekick from Honda. Even this decision by the Japanese international was criticised as many think it would have been a smarter option to keep possession of the ball than trying to score.
However, the attitude of Honda and co need to be praised rather than condemned. What the audience wanted (and expected) from them was to let the time pass by and try to get the game to penalties. But what they did at that moment was what any big team would have done. They believed they could score. They believed they could beat one of the best teams in the world and that should make Asia proud.
Japan has been always known for their discipline. Even the common habit of removing one’s footwear before entering a building or a house was introduced by them. The country’s football team and its fans who came to participate at the World Cup were no different.
Players resorting to unethical actions on the pitch to provoke the opponents or to get a decision in their favour from the referee has become an ordinary spectacle in modern football. There are even teams who use it as a strategy to tempt their opponents. But Japan made sure that they don’t forget their own values even in their darkest hours.
Even though they lunge into tackles or gather around the officials to let them know about their unhappiness on any particular decision, the Blue Samurais do not cross a certain limit. Cheap shots and such unscrupulous acts are not present in their book of tricks.
And we cannot talk about the team’s supporters, who always stood back after games to clean up the area they were occupying. Even when their heroes faced an excruciating defeat in the final minute of the match against Belgium, they made sure that they didn’t leave anything behind that would tarnish the values held by them.