The Last Time I’ll Write About The World Cup I Swear

July 1, 2010

So, let’s recap what’s happened to the team I’ve been rooting for this World Cup. Greece fluttered in and out of tournament without leaving much of an indent. France imploded so majestically it almost seems like a victory, if they awarded wins to who could fall apart the most amazingly. The United States fared best, but still got caught off guard by Ghana. With all my heritage-related squads exiting out of South Africa, I found myself turning to the old “I live in this country, better root for them” option of Japan. Wanting to at least experience one more game of the World Cup cheering for someone before things fell apart and ended up rooting for “good games,” I risked sleep deprivation to see the Japanese side play Paraguay Tuesday night.

The awesomely named Samurai Blue have had one of the more triumphant runs in this year’s cup…recall the Japanese national media’s doom-and-gloom predictions for the team, so prevalent even a pinhead like me picked up on them. Then they beat Cameroon, and everyone got ecstatic. Then they lost to the Netherlands, and everyone got realistic. Then they mudstomped Denmark, and the country went crazy.

In some ways, Japan’s reaction to their soccer team mirrors the U.S. response. Though lacking a signature moment ala the last-minute goal against Algeria (Japan’s got some nice free kick goals though!) to put on loop, both countries went into South Africa with pretty unenthused fanbases, but a taste of winning has transformed everyone into a fan. The media shows jersey-clad fans drunkenly reveling in the streets of Shibuya, every news show talks about the team’s preparations, a famous statue of a guy running in Osaka now wears Japan swag.

This giddy mood carried over to the crucial game against Paraguay, the winning team advancing to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time ever. The bar I went to packed up right before the start, a fair amount of people, some wearing jerseys (one dude sported an Argentina jersey OK) coming out at 11 at night to root for their national team. It was easily the most exciting crowd I’ve been around so far this World Cup, though that’s not a particularly strong bragging point as I often watch the games alone in my apartment. They gasped when Paraguay appeared primed to score and cheered when Japan somehow avoided catastrophe. Reverse for when Samurai Blue had a chance at the goal.

The game remained 0-0 for all 90 minutes plus 30 minutes of extra time. Most of the Twitter-verse (ugggh) commented on how the game was kinda boring…and, just look at that score, it kind of was. Yet watching the match surrounded by Japanese supporters, while also cheering for Japan, it was easy to be caught up in everything and be glued to every poor pass. It was the best 0-0 game I’ve ever seen.

Thus the game went to the most aggravatingly appropriate decider in sports, penalty kicks. They suck because they completely discard what makes a soccer match a soccer match in favor of something akin to a carnival game…but it’s also the only real way to end these sorts of contests without them dragging on forever. Which Paraguay-Japan very well could have. PKs are also terribly tense and everyone in the bar seemed more on edge during them. Total agony.

Long story short, Japan put one PK a little too high and missed. Paraguay didn’t, and won the match 5-3 on penalties. Silence followed by pained acceptance became the default atmosphere in the bar, before folk began applauding the team’s run. A great go that easily could have lasted one more round (before Spain shredded it apart). Go good games!!!

(Japanese Fun Fact #71 – The Japanese love filming cats and putting them online…no revelation there. Here’s the latest cat sensation and one appropriate for the above mess of words…Kitty World Cup!)

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