It turns out football miracles can strike twice. Blow after blow, and in the same place. After their side’s shock loss to Costa Rica at the weekend, many Japanese fans were bracing for an early Qatar World Cup exit at the hands of Spain on Thursday.
Instead, Khalifa International Stadium was the backdrop for another extraordinary night for Japanese football, as Samurai Blue beat the 2010 world champions 2-1 to send them through to the round of 16 and a meeting with the 2018 finalists, Croatia. Victory in this match would take Japan to the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time.
“Doha delights again!” one newspaper headlined its online edition, evoking memories of what the media called the “Doha miracle” after Japan’s victory over Germany.
Much of the post-match opinion focused on Japan’s controversial winner, after VAR ruled the ball remained a fraction before Kaoru Mitoma crossed it for Ao Tanaka to head home him, sparking wild celebrations in Doha and Tokyo.
The Daily Sports said Japan were “a millimeter away” from exiting the tournament. “Luck was on Japan’s side,” the tabloid said. Tokyo Sports, meanwhile, noted that the team had once again become the stars of the tournament, days after their 2-1 win over Germany, who failed to make it out of the FIFA Cup group stage. world for the second consecutive time.
“Foreign media did not expect Japan to succeed,” the newspaper said. “But they’re all excited now, including the BBC.”
The VAR controversy has also been talked about on social media, with one account joking that it spawned a new design for the national flag of Japan.
While Japanese fans have long been lauded for tidy up the stadiums Around the world on Thursday, there was so much love online for gamers.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier for any team in any sport,” Seth Levine said in a post on The Guardian’s live blog. “Love the way they play. No crap house. No histrionics. Brilliant fans. Great tactically. Manager wears a charcoal three-piece suit. What’s not to like ?”
Ben Mabley, who commentates on Premier League football in Japan, had a message for those who doubted Japan’s footballing pedigree. “Since I came to Japan, I’ve heard people say that Japan doesn’t have much football history. I don’t ever want to hear that again!” he tweeted in Japanese. “An incredible story is unfolding before your eyes! Congratulations!”
Ken Kawakita, who watched the match at home in Yokohama, said he had almost given up hope after Japan’s poor first half. “Spain looked better in every way, but Japan were a completely different team in the second half,” he said.
“I realized that football is as much about the mentality of the players as it is about their footballing abilities. I couldn’t believe the transformation in the second half. It’s been a rollercoaster week. We were thrilled after Germany and then desperate after Costa Rica. Who knows what will happen next? Croatia aren’t as good as they were four years ago, but I’m trying not to get carried away.
Even the pre-dawn kickoff could not deter fans who braved the cold from watching the game together on giant screens, or setting their alarms to follow the game from their futons, knowing that they would have little or no time to doze off before getting ready for work.
Fans chanting “Nippon! Nippon!” celebrated before sunrise at the famous railroad crossing in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, and then exchanged high-fives with bleary-eyed commuters exiting the station.
“I never thought Japan would finish first in their group. Thank you, Japan! Love you guys,” said 19-year-old fan Yusei Sato.
Takuya Kudo, 23, burst into tears at the final whistle. “I’m so happy,” he said. “Honestly, I never thought Japan would do this so well. I’m really thrilled.
“Samurai Blue” and “Come-from-behind winner” were trending on Twitter, while a user posted a cartoon of a roaring japanese dragon flanked by those of a lucky Spain, who also qualified from Group E, and a clearly bewildered Germany.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called the victory “historic”, adding that he had called on team coach Hajime Moriyasu and Japan Football Association president Kozo Tashima for their offer his congratulations.
“I told them that they gave courage and energy to the Japanese people,” Kishida said on Twitter. “We’re looking forward to the round of 16. Fight on, Japan!”
Moriyasu, who came under fire for his tactics in the 1-0 loss to Costa Rica, thanked Japan’s traveling fans and the many others who got up in the middle of the night to watch his team. “This victory is a gift for the Japanese people,” he said.