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World Cup

Pressure Makes Us

When I lived in Japan, I was lucky enough to be present for the 2006 World Cup.  Having met Japan’s goalie, Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, in 2005, I was a huge fan of the team and enjoyed many Jubilo Iwata soccer games during the regular season.  During the 2006 World Cup, met up with my J-friends and cheered in unison with everyone else wearing samurai blue.  I even woke up at 4am for a couple games, also the final, even though Japan wasn’t playing.

During World Cup mania, my students would often ask me, “If Japan and US are in the final, who will you cheer for?” (Actually, they asked this more in the form of our classroom English, “Do you like Japan team or USA team?”) My response was always, “I like both.”  They understood that I am American, but have a deep love for Japan and my J-peeps. Japan made me a FIFA fan.

During the men’s World Cup last year, I watched several matches, as Vietnam is a soccer crazy country and most games were televised at the Press Club, where I worked and all over Hanoi.  As I watched Japan play, I wore my official blue jersey in support and jumped for joy when they beat Denmark and shed a tear when their run ended against Paraguay. The team advanced further than they ever had and I was tremendously proud.  My friends in Japan emailed me often through the tournament to check if I was cheering for Japan.  I also gathered with lots of my mates for an England match along with my fellow expats (USA matches weren’t always shown).  I was equally bummed when the US did not pull off a win against Ghana, ending their enthusiastic run. I was happy for Spain, in the end and enjoyed watching that country celebrate its victory (and secretly wished I could be there to join in the fun!)

On Sunday, I was excited for the game, yet I was really conflicted as to who to cheer for.  In all honesty, I wanted both teams to win.  Both teams had put up a good fight to get to the final and both teams had equally compelling stories as to how meaningful the win would be for them. My heart was torn.

I was online during the game, tweeting and chatting with other friends on Facebook at crucial moments of the game.  With the ESPN announcers writing off the Japanese after the US scored their first goal, I found myself pulling more for Japan than for the US.  How can you write off any team with almost twenty minutes left in the game? The online sentiments were about the same… looked like the USA was going to pull off the win. And I found I kept shaking my head with the resounding over-confidence of the US.

We all know what happened in the game.  US took more shots and Japan played heavily on the defensive.  Yet, at the end of play, the score was tied.  And at the end of extended play, the score was tied.  To me, that does not mean that the US handed Japan the game or that the US deserved to win.  The game was tied.  The score was even.  And at the end of the day, Japan blocked penalty kicks and landed more in the net to win the game in a shoot out.

What followed the game was a long list of sentiments that rang to the tune of “The US should have won that game.”  All I could think of is, “Why?”  @NikeWomen even tweeted “The Toughest Losses Make The Strongest Teams. Incredible effort by #USWNT. Congrats, Japan. #PressureMakesUs.” Was even Nike saying that the US was the better team and that somehow the loss makes the US the stronger team? Notice the order of the comments…Nike couldn’t even begin with a congratulatory note. (BTW – there has been nay a tweet from @NikeWomen referring to #PressureMakesUs or Japan’s win/USA’s loss since the above post-game tweet, instead moving forward with a #MakeYourself campaign.)

In a San Diego forum, a comment read: Am I the only one who realizes that Japan did not deserve this win, they did nothing for it, the US gave it to them. Should have been 4-1 US by the end of it all. Stupid luck was all it is.

Really? So it was sheer luck that got Japan to the finals?  Did they just bypass all the qualifiers and semi-final matches and magically appear in the final?  Or did they work just as hard, play just as tough and earn, just as much, their spot in the final game? Japan’s final game strategy may have been different than America’s but ultimately, Japan scored more goals. Ultimately, Japan won the game.  “Deep down inside, I really thought it was our destiny to win it,” Carli Lloyd said. “But maybe it was Japan’s.”  Even US players had to attribute their loss to something greater than Japan’s or their own abilities. You would be hard pressed to find comments from the Japanese players stating that they felt they deserved to win or it was the team’s fate to be champions.

One of the biggest factors of culture shock in returning to the US is to see, hear and feel the ego of America.  There is nothing wrong with patriotism, except when it borders on arrogance.  Hubris is never cool, never sexy, and never results in the win. The US team and supporters could do well by being happy for Japan, by genuinely congratulating them on their win and most importantly, maintaining a winning attitude.  Nobody likes a sore loser. Is that what pressure makes us?

Absolutely heartbreaking

A quick note today to wrap up the World Cup coverage on Japan.  I watched the game last night and bit my nails watching Japan suffer a heartbreaking loss to Paraguay, loosing by penalty kicks.  It was Komano’s kick that missed the goal, and I just hope this talented player is not holding the responsibility too heavy on his shoulders.  The scenes of Japanese fans crying, the players crying…it was all too much.  It was truly heartbreaking!

As much as I wanted Japan to move at least one more level up, I have to say that they had an amazing tournament and have made vast improvements in skill from 2006.  It’s never fun to end your run on penalty kicks, but that’s soccer and that’s the way it goes.  I think they did an amazing job this year.

Again a big thank you to the boys in blue for a great and exciting run.  I can’t wait for 2014!!! I’m proud to cheer for Japan and the Samurai Blue!!!

Soccer Football Soccer

I love the World Cup.  It might be evident that I have a fondness for Japan’s national team after posting news about their wins against Denmark and Cameroon and advancing to the top 16.  Having lived in Japan for five years, and on the heels of my recent vacation, I am a little partial to the Samurai Blue!  However, that doesn’t mean that I have not been cheering for the US or ignoring the other games.

In the first week of matches, the games times were 6:30pm, 9:00pm and 1:30am here in Hanoi.  Leading up to this past weekend, the games were shown only at 9:00pm and 1:30am.  I stayed up Friday morning to watch Japan beat Denmark, but I’ve also crowded into the hotspot to cheer on England (the only game shown in the bars here) and check the FIFA.com like a crazy person and high-fived all my British fans when we all learned that the US had won too.  I was even at the bar at 1:30am on Sunday morning to cheer the US vs. Ghana and watched the Germany vs. England game from home last night, as I was still recovering from being up past 3am twice in 3 days!

I’m super bummed that the US didn’t beat Ghana.  It was such a let down after their last-second goal against Algeria. Did you see all those celebration videos posted to You Tube?  I was also heartbroken for England. I never expected Germany to crush their defense, and I am disturbed that another team was robbed of their goal.

I’m hopeful that Japan can beat Paraguay and go farther in this tournament than they ever have before.  They are really a solid team with no prima donnas (yes, a reference to Nakata and Takahara) and while I have no illusions that they will win, I would be happy if they move on just one more step.  I can’t wait for the Argentina/Germany game which will be prime time here.  I think Spain will take Portugal and I take the risk to predict a Netherlands vs. Argentina final which will offer amazing play on the field and a win for the Argentinians.

Hooray for Japan!

You all know I’m a huge soccer fan and particularly enjoyed watching the World Cup in Japan in 2006. I’ve been just as enthusiastic to catch all the action here in Hanoi, as well as cheer for my Samurai Blue.  The games in 2006 were often broadcast late at night or 4am.  Since I was in the habit of waking up at 5am in those days, the 4am games were not such a killer.  I tend to state up late now that I live in Hanoi, but you would be surprised how hard it is to stay awake for a game which starts at 1:30am!

Nonetheless, this is what I did and I’m super happy about it!!!


I can’t wait to watch them play again!  They looks strong and solid and while I don’t think they will win the Cup, I do think they have a valid chance of passing through the top 16.  GO JAPAN!!!

Japan 1: Cameroon 0

For Japan’s World Cup Opener, I was at home, alone, wearing my blue jersey.  Apparently, none of my friends in Hanoi were interested to watch Japan compete (???).  That’s a shame because the game was really exciting.  And at the end of 90 minutes, Japan WON!!!!  In a World Cup which has started off with a heck of a lot of tie matches, this is BIG for Japan on so many levels.

As the pre-game coverage unfolded, I couldn’t help but remember the 2006 games and a bar in Fujieda called the Skin Flute.  The first game of the World Cup was a heartbreaker, losing 3-1 and in the last 8 minutes to Australia.  Great for our friend Peter, but pretty sad for the rest of the bar, as it really looked like Japan would take the game, until Australia put in some fresh legs at about minute 76.

In last night’s match, Japan played amazing defense, and were aggressive on offense too.  They still don’t play as fluid as the Europeans, making lots of standing passes, but not a lot of running passes.  Both teams displayed an extraordinary level of drama.  Lots of fake falling and injuries.  I can’t stand that about soccer.  I do think Japan will take Denmark, but Holland will be a tough match, for sure.  Especially since Holland is largely thought to be a huge contender to win the World Cup. Having said that, the J-Boys look ready, fit and full of Samurai Spirit.  I loved that underneath those ear-piercing vuvuzela horns, you could hear the beating of the taiko.

While I was watching the game last night, I couldn’t help but think back to my life in 2006.  My, how things change.  In so many ways my life has moved on from that point, but at the same time, there is so much of me that longs for a bar named the Skin Flute, an amazing group of friends filling up the seats, all those Japanese cheers, and Kawaguchi between the posts.


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