There is no other way if you have outplayed Germany and Spain. And both successes were in game-changing matches when first they trapped the favourites in an underestimation, and then they regrouped. In the case of the Germans, the difference was millimetres – the referees deemed that the ball had not left the field in a goal attack. Germany left the World Cup in the group stage and dropped to a record low. And a happy and weeping Japanese celebrated their second consecutive deserved playoff exit. Coach Hajime, who was part of the team’s failure in Doha, outplayed Spain in the same city decades later.
However, a cynical fan of conspiracy theories will say that the wily Luis Enrique didn’t want to see Croatia and the Brazilians. A poor version because if Costa Rica had beaten the Germans – keeping the scoreline the same as it was during the match – then Spain and Germany would have been out in tandem. A meeting with Morocco, and then, if victory follows, with Portugal, is not a bonus but a statement that Japan has appropriately prepared for the tournament. Although Japan has been underestimating the last-16 exit, which bet365 スポーツブック and other bookmakers not expected them to reach, they enjoyed surprising their fans. Enrique’s potential semi-final opponents are no gift either – England and France. There will be no easy playoffs.
England has already drawn with a young USA team. Argentina lost to Saudi Arabia. Belgium and Denmark are the last teams in their groups, and they are solid teams. Poland, who represents Europe in the playoffs, is the worst team in the decisive stage, regardless of the outcome of Neymar and Ronaldo in the groups. Australia certainly isn’t the masterpiece of football, but they have spirit. And Japan has intelligence. They have eight men from German clubs.
Many of Japan’s leaders understand European football, like the author of the winning goal against Spain, because Tanaka plays for Fortuna. And Doan plays for the successful Bundesliga club Freiburg. Japan as an analogy to that club, and Germany as Bayern? But Hajime’s disciplined, organised and enthusiastic team emerged from the group. The clarity of the lines of play and the players’ experience – the Japanese have a mature team, a bit of luck and a couple of goalkeeping saves have written the names of these guys into the football legend of their home country. It’s nice to be first in something good, and the Japanese were first to give the fans, who also cleaned up the stands behind them, a playoff tale twice in a row.
Iniesta’s young son Paolo Andrea, growing up in Japan, lost yesterday to a team from a country that is not foreign to him. The elder Iniesta saw how quickly a nation with ancient traditions could adopt the skills of others. They wanted to learn to play football – they did it, and they beat out the German teachers.