Ambitious Japanese fans deflated by Samurai Blue’s first-match loss in World Cup

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Japanese soccer fans fell into a funk Sunday after the national team lost its first match of the 2014 World Cup against Cote d’Ivoire, after sports stadiums, bars and clubs across the country opened their doors early Sunday to spectators.

“All I can say is that it’s frustrating,” said Yohei Shiina, a 24-year-old Yokohama resident who joined the crowd at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama. Stadium officials said 11,773 people showed up to view the soggy, rain-hit match on two huge screens.

The fans erupted in joy when AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda scored the first goal in the 16th minute. Cote d’Ivoire came close to scoring several times in the first half, but Japan somehow kept a clean sheet, putting fans in a cheerful mood at the midway point.

But a short while later, after Cote d’Ivoire’s star striker Didier Drogba entered the game in the 62nd minute, an air of nervousness hung over the stadium.

Two minutes later, the crowd fell silent when Cote d’Ivoire striker Wilfried Bony tied the score with a header. The mood only darkened when striker Gervinho scored just two minutes after Bony.

With time running out, many fans stood and eagerly chanted “Nippon,” desperately hoping for a leveling goal. When the final whistle sounded, many quickly left the stadium.

Kanagawa Prefecture resident Masaya Matsuoka, 22, said that while it was fun to watch a match in public with other fans for the first time, it was frustrating to see Japan lose. He said Japan didn’t create enough chances to score.

While others praised Honda for scoring first, they also said the team didn’t look good, overall.

Cote d’Ivoire on the other hand did a good job building momentum, so “I was concerned they would eventually score and they did,” said Hiroshi Mitsuka, 40, of Yokohama. “Today’s match was disappointing, but I want to believe that if Japan wins the next two, we can advance (to the final 16).”

Shiina said a second Japanese goal looked unlikely because the team played too defensively. He said Japan should have attacked more because a shutout was unlikely. He added that he hopes Japan will still advance.

“The next match against Greece will be important, as Greece also lost its first match,” Shiina said.