‘Miracle of Doha’: Holiday calls as Japan’s Samurai Blue slaps Germany to the sword

Japan’s surprise victory over Germany in Qatar on Wednesday sparked late-night celebrations and calls to celebrate the Samurai Blue’s momentous performance in the opener of the 2022 World Cup with a holiday.

It was just before midnight when Takuma Asano shot Japan’s winners into the net at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha – a result that seemed impossible after a poor first half from Japan, who were participating in their seventh straight World Cup.

For fans of a certain age, the comeback 2-1 win helped banish painful memories of another crucial game in Doha nearly three decades ago. There, Japan arrived just minutes after qualifying for their first World Cup, only to be denied qualification for USA 1994 by an injury-time equalizer from their opponents Iraq.

The victory on Wednesday sparked impromptu celebrations at the famous Scramble Crossing in Shibuya and calls on Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to follow Saudi Arabia’s example and declare a public holiday.

Yui Sasaki, a Tokyo office worker, was among hundreds of fans who watched the game at a public venue in the capital. Sasaki fought back tears and told Asahi Shimbun, “Honestly, before the game, I thought Japan would need a miracle to win.”

Japan fans celebrate in Souq Waqif after beating Germany. Photo: Amanda Perobelli/Reuters

Kishida drew mockery on social media after a tweet appeared on his official account during the match mentioning his visit to the Imperial Palace earlier in the day. “I expressed my gratitude for a bountiful harvest and prayed for the prosperity of the imperial family and the peace of the nation,” he wrote. Social media users’ response: Why don’t you watch football?

But Kishida, whose approval ratings for his party’s ties to the controversial Unification Church are at an all-time low, managed to capture national sentiment on Thursday morning. “I saw the game on TV … it was a wonderful win,” he told reporters. “I hope they can go ahead and make it to the knockout rounds.”

Among the Japanese public figures who took to Twitter to congratulate the team was tennis player Kei Nishikori, who simply posted a series of eight Hinomaru flags.

The victory made headlines in broadsheet and tabloids, with some noting that the agony of 29 years ago had been replaced in the national consciousness by the “Doha Miracle”.

Amid the headlines of Japan’s “meaningful” and “stunning” victory over the four-time world champions, media reports praised coach Hajime Moriyasu – a member of the team whose dreams had been dashed in Doha 29 years earlier – whose 5th promotion proved to be a stroke of genius.

Social media has seen praise blazing for Asano, who plays for German Bundesliga side VfL Bochum, and for Japan’s fellow goalscorer Ritsu Doan, who also plays his club football in Germany at SC Freiburg.

Some credited Japan’s victory to Taiyo, a river otter at a Tokyo aquarium, who predicted the outcome the day before the game after placing a miniature soccer ball in a blue bucket bearing the Japanese flag and snubbing a red one with the German flag and a yellow one had one marked “tie,” according to the Kyodo news agency.

Yujiro Nakao, a Tokyo businessman and lifelong Samurai Blue supporter, said the team showed courage by refusing to give up after a “hopeless” first half. “In the second half, they changed their tactics and attacked more,” said Nakao, who watched the game at home with his wife.

Japanese soccer fans wave a World Cup trophy after their triumph in Tokyo on Wednesday night.
Japanese soccer fans wave a World Cup trophy after their triumph in Tokyo on Wednesday night. Photo: Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO/REX/Shutterstock

“Moriyasu has been criticized a lot in the past, but he has shown that he can be a good strategist. I predict – I hope – that we can beat Costa Rica and draw against Spain. I will cheer them on.”

Misae Minami, a teacher in Osaka, said she felt Japan would prove the experts wrong. “Most people expected Germany to win but I was hopeful because Japan’s young players have improved dramatically and quite a few of them play for German clubs. You could see that our players got stronger mentally and physically because they didn’t give up even after Germany scored the first goal.”

Japan is now dreaming of reaching the round of 16 for the fourth time and reaching the quarter-finals for the first time. While Germany’s game kicked off at 10pm local time on Wednesday, the time difference will be more comfortable for Japanese fans when their side meet Costa Rica early Sunday night.

“I can’t wait for the next game,” Minami said. “We’ll win that too!”

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