Soccer / World Cup

Samurai Blue fans kick up a ruckus at Japan-Colombia viewing event

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff writer

Tokyo Dome was one of the many sites that hosted public viewing events for Tuesday’s Japan-Colombia game, the first match of the tourney for both.

For many fans at the Big Egg, it must have felt as if they were actually in Saransk, which is actually about 7,000 kilometers away from Tokyo.

A total of 11,000 fans assembled at the stadium, which usually serves as the home for baseball’s Yomiuri Giants, to send enthusiastic encouragement to the Samurai Blue Eleven, who were playing their debut game at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

“It felt great,” said an 18-year-old university student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, after Japan’s 2-1 upset of Colombia. “I was believing in them.”

Although the organizers has warned the crowd before the late-night game about being quiet, with no drumming whatsoever, the fans naturally couldn’t contain their joy after the game-winning header by Yuya Osako.

“It was just . . . too great of a feeling. I can’t begin to describe how I felt,” the university student said while recalling the exhilarating moment when Osako scored a goal in the 73rd minute.

Fans send cheers in the closing minutes of the Japan-Colombia game at the Tokyo Dome public-viewing event.
Fans send cheers in the closing minutes of the Japan-Colombia game at the Tokyo Dome public-viewing event. | KAZ NAGATSUKA

When the closing whistle finally blew, the fans went even crazier, screaming, high-fiving, hopping and hugging each other.

It was a shocker, indeed. Expectations weren’t high for the Japan squad, who had recently turned in lackluster performances and experienced a dramatic managerial change two months prior to the Cup. By and large, Colombia was the favorite.

Masaki Nomoto, a 47-year-old company employee who attend the viewing event, didn’t give up faith. He insisted that he knew Japan would do well, citing the team’s showing at the 2010 World Cup. While not many Japanese expected a great showing, the underdogs successfully advanced to the final round of 16 during the tournament in South Africa.

Fans dressed at bowling pins support Japan at a World Cup public-viewing event at Tokyo Dome on Tuesday night.
Fans dressed at bowling pins support Japan at a World Cup public-viewing event at Tokyo Dome on Tuesday night. | KAZ NAGATSUKA

“Maybe they’ll have a similar run this time,” said Nomoto, who had painted his face white and dressed as a bowling pin. “(The three points for the win) have made their life a lot easier now.”

Nomoto and his friend Yojiro Hashimoto, who had both traveled to previous World Cups, to root for Japan, said although this was their first time to attend a public viewing, it felt great to share the experience with other fans.

“I believe that our energy is being delivered (to the team),” said Nomoto during half-time. The Tokyo-based fan will soon travel to Russia to support Japan during its second and third group-stage games against Senegal and Poland.

It wasn’t only Japanese fans that donned the blue Samurai Blue jerseys at the public-viewing event.

A pair of Germans — Timo Riedel and Eiko Grieger — who both wore team replicas for the occasion, said they had a blast supporting the local team.

“I’ve been here kind of long time and I’ve been rooting for (Japan),” said Riedel, 29. “We’d been looking for a place to watch it, and came down here thinking this would be the best place to do it.”

Grieger, 43, praised Japan for its gutsy performance against Colombia.

“They were really great today,” he said. “I think that they will definitely advance to the next round.”