Kagoshima, Japan – Japan take on Croatia in the group of 16 of the World Cup 2022 on Monday. The 6pm (15:00 GMT) kickoff means it will be midnight in Japan when the first whistle is blown.
Many will sacrifice their sleep to watch their team play. With extra time and penalties a possibility, there is a chance that Japanese football fans may be awake and glued to their screens well past 3am.
The wins over Germany and Spain mean that even casual football fans are glued to their screens and are willing to sacrifice their sleep, hoping and praying for one more sleepless night after every match.
Japan progressed beyond the group stage of the World Cup three times but never went beyond the last-16 stage.
The Group E wins over Germany and Spain have created strong hope and belief that Hajime Moriyasu’s team can become the first to cross that barrier. Should the Blue Samurai down Croatia, they will become only the second Asian nation to reach the quarter-finals after South Korea in 2002.
For 44-year-old Japanese fan Takuro Shinmyozu, the player who has made a difference in Moriyasu’s charges is Ritsu Doan. The SC Freiburg winger has scored twice, his goals helping Japan beat Germany and Spain.
While Shinmyozu has been happy with the performances of Doan, dubbed by some as “the Japanese Messi”, he does feel that the 24-year-old needs to improve his behaviour.
“Doan is the best player. He knows what Japan should do. He may need to work on his attitude though,” said Shinmyozu who credits Japan’s disciplined strategy for having helped them overcome Germany and Spain.
“Higher-ranked teams like Germany and Spain have better individual skills and passing than Japan. Japan fended off their attacks and responded with well-organised strategies in the second half of those games,” he added.
Shinmyozu conceded that the team surprised him. He admitted he turned off his television and went to sleep when the team was trailing 1-0 against Germany in their World Cup opener but realised what he had missed out on when he woke up.
Yoichi Tominaga feels that the strong performances of the Samurai Blue in Qatar will serve the national team going well into the future.
He also noticed a change in the mentality of players who now “do not give strong nations respect” on the field as previous generations of Japanese footballers may have been doing to their own detriment.
“We have picked up confidence. We don’t give too much respect to strong nations any more. We are not afraid of them. There are many strong nations like Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Spain and France that we could still learn a lot from. Kids who are watching these games will not think that we are just an underdog. They will think that we can beat these teams. It gives the future of Japanese football a lot of meaning,” he said.
After witnessing the team make gradual improvement since its first World Cup appearance in 1998, longtime football fans such as Tominaga, 38, expected the group-stage games to be difficult but always knew that Japan would have a fighting chance of getting out of the group.
“I thought the group would be hard. I knew we would have a chance of advancing beyond the group stage as most football fans know that anything can happen in football,” said Tominaga.