Unfazed, unmoved and uncowed by their star-studded opponents, Japan were a joy to watch against Belgium. And when the talented Takashi Inui had struck to make it to 2-0, the Blue Samurai must’ve thought they were on their way to play Brazil in their first ever quarter-finals at a World Cup.
Alas, it was not meant to be as Belgium delivered a heart-breaking knock-out blow to dash the hopes of their Asian counterparts. Indeed the only criticism that can be directed at the men in blue were their naivety. They lacked proper game management and when Keisuke Honda delivered a poor ball into the penalty area from a corner, their fate was sealed as it allowed the Red Devils to unleash a counter-attack that consigned them to defeat.
But for any Asian out there watching Japan play was to be imbued with pride. This was a team who according to many were to be swept aside by Belgium’s golden generation. Yet it was anything but that. Japan had gone toe to toe with one of Europe’s finest and so nearly beaten them, and again it highlights how far the Japanese have come since their debut in the tournament in 1998.
Japan’s squad now has more players playing in Europe with the likes of Yuto Nagatomo, Inui and Maya Yoshida just to name a few. In the past it was Hidetoshi Nakata who was the face of Japanese soccer and he previously mentioned how in the past, he was only a handful of Japanese players who plied their trade abroad. Today it is a different story and it underlines Japan’s growth.
Moreover the footballing style Japan played against Belgium must also be commended. This was a team that was tactically disciplined but was also prepared to attack. Compared to Russia who put in a backs- to-the- wall performance, Japan weren’t content to sit back and kept on attacking. Although, one may argue that contributed to their downfall in the game.
Here in Singapore we shouldn’t be too surprised at witnessing how well the Japanese performed. Albirex Niigata has dominated the Singapore Premier League with their professionalism and tactical nous. For Singapore and other Asian countries they must start looking East instead of Europe to be inspired by the Japanese way of football. Maybe in order for other Asian teams to rise, they must learn astutely from the land of the rising sun.