In wake of World Cup loss to Belgium, Japanese fans look back on unexpected run

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

Fans of the national soccer team were reflective on Tuesday after Japan’s loss to Belgium in the FIFA World Cup knockout stage, with many looking back fondly on their better-than-expected performance in Russia.

A win would have secured the team’s first ever advancement to the World Cup quarterfinals. Although the game started at 3 a.m. for fans in Japan, viewer ratings averaged 30.8 percent in the Kanto region and 28.3 percent for the Kansai region, reaching a peak of 42.6 percent in Kanto.

Several fans interviewed by The Japan Times in Tokyo were disappointed with the loss, but they looked back fondly at the team’s ups and downs and expressed pleasant surprise at Japan’s success.

“I didn’t have much hope for the Japanese team” when the World Cup began, but “everything changed when we won against Colombia” in the first game, said Kaori Seno of Gifu prefecture.

“To be honest, I didn’t think the Japanese team was this strong,” said Takeji Fujishiro, who lives in central Tokyo. “I didn’t think they would make it this far.”

Yohei, who lives in Kanagawa and declined to give his last name, also said the team’s performance exceeded his expectations. “When I saw (Takashi) Inui’s incredible goal this morning (during the match with Belgium), I was amazed. I’d never thought that a member of the Japanese team could deliver such a goal,” he said.

However, it wasn’t just the dramatic goals that left an impression in the minds of supporters. When asked what the most memorable moment of the World Cup was for her, Seno pointed to when Keisuke Honda “stuck his tongue out” following his goal during the Senegal match — a celebratory expression that prompted a media frenzy.

Hirotaka Awata, who works in Tokyo, said the last 10 minutes of Japan’s match against Poland — when the national team played for time in a strategic effort to win the group stage on fair play points — was an interesting and “clever” way to move ahead in the tournament.

Many fans were pegging their hopes on a stronger Japan team and a better performance at the next World Cup, in 2022.

“I think the overall sentiment is that Japan did well because they made it to the second round, but for our team to become better, I think they need to aim higher,” said Yohei.

But the first step for supporters on Tuesday was recovery after the early morning match.

“I’m really sleepy right now,” said Yohei, who had taken a nap before waking up in time for the broadcast.

“I’ll be going to bed early tonight.”

Information from Kyodo added

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