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Japan’s impressive World Cup run encourages fans across nation

Fans of both sides chanted throughout the match, and Japanese supporters shouted
Fans of both sides chanted throughout the match, and Japanese supporters shouted "Nippon," or Japan. (AFP)
Fans of both sides chanted throughout the match, and Japanese supporters shouted
Fans of both sides chanted throughout the match, and Japanese supporters shouted "Nippon," or Japan. (AFP)
Fans of both sides chanted throughout the match, and Japanese supporters shouted
Fans of both sides chanted throughout the match, and Japanese supporters shouted "Nippon," or Japan. (AFP)
Fans of both sides chanted throughout the match, and Japanese supporters shouted
Fans of both sides chanted throughout the match, and Japanese supporters shouted "Nippon," or Japan. (AFP)
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06 Dec 2022 02:12:52 GMT9
06 Dec 2022 02:12:52 GMT9

AL WAKRAH, Qatar: Japan’s failure to reach the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar following its penalty shootout loss to Croatia in the first round of the knockout stage left fans stunned, but the national team’s impressive run in the hugely popular soccer tournament encouraged many across the East Asian country.

Al Janoub Stadium was packed with fans from around the world as Japan, which reached the round of 16 for the fourth time, faced off against Croatia on Monday in the hope of making it to the final eight.

Japan’s Daizen Maeda scored the first goal of the match in the 43rd minute of the first half, but the Croatian side made it even in the 10th minute of the second half, sending the match into overtime. After the extra 30 minutes failed to produce a winner, the two sides battled in a penalty shootout, where Croatia emerged victorious 3-1.

Fans of both sides chanted throughout the match, and Japanese supporters shouted “Nippon,” or Japan, and “Gonda,” the family name of Japan’s goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda, during the shootout. However, their cheers were in vain.

Momoko Kawatsura, 32, a corporate worker from Tokyo’s Minato Ward, could not hold back her tears after the match, saying how Japan was “only one step away” from topping Croatia.

Kawatsura witnessed how Japan had given up their lead and handed Belgium a victory in their first-round match in the knockout stage at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and had looked forward to the World Cup in Qatar as an opportunity to watch what Team Japan had failed to do four years ago.

“Japan brought us to overtime, which was a little better than last time,” she said. “I hope Japan will definitely make it to the final eight next time.”

“I’m at a loss for words,” Ippei Yamamoto, a 27-year-old corporate worker from Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, western Japan, said after Japan’s penalty shootout defeat to Croatia.

But he said that the latest World Cup “was the most hopeful I have felt for Japan” and that he “saw a glimmer of hope that was not there before.”

“I could feel Team Japan’s growth that will lead to the next tournament,” Yamamoto said.

In the 2022 World Cup, the Japanese team, led by coach Hajime Moriyasu, advanced to the knockout stage at the top of Group E, where it beat soccer superpowers Germany and Spain, both past World Cup champions.

Chihiro Ichikawa, a 37-year-old also from Minato Ward who came to watch the match with her family, said she was encouraged by Team Japan at a time when the country, like many other nations, is struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ichikawa, who had attended matches from the group stage, said that people on the street congratulated her since Japan defeated Germany in their Group E opener and that she realized that her national team was amazing as she saw foreign fans cheering on Japan in the match against Croatia.

She said that the Japanese players, who built up their efforts in the face of criticism, taught her “the beauty of continuing to make challenges to see new sights,” and that she was inspired to work hard herself.

Japanese supporters who gathered at the iconic scramble crossing in Tokyo’s busy Shibuya district also showed disappointment at Japan’s exit from the World Cup in Qatar.

“I thought Japan can make it, but I realized that reaching the last eight is not easy,” Yuji Shionoya, an 18-year-old university student from Machida, Tokyo, said.

Croatia “has a different kind of strength compared with Germany and Spain,” Kanae Hirono, 34, a corporate worker from Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward, said.

JIJI Press

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