Japan’s plan to become world champion

Japan’s plan to become world champion

For a country whose footballing tradition is not proverbial as is the case in the great powers of South America and Europe, conscientious and long-term work is much more necessary than where nature and culture are often enough. In Japan they know very well and that’s why has drawn up an ambitious plan that aspires to reach its peak with the conquest of the World Cupno more no less. When are you expecting it? Around 2092hundred years after the creation of the J League.

football, which arrived at the end of the 19th century in the Empire of the Rising Sunnever enjoyed the popularity of baseball or of sumothem national sports. But if had small successes which invited us to reflect on the possibility of a happy future, which was much clearer in the nineties.

An honorable participation in the Berlin Olympics in 1936, the creation of the first national league of amateur teams (later semi-amateur) in 1965 and the bronze medal obtained at the Mexico Olympics in 1968 announced a boom in Japan. However, popularity slumped in the 1970s and disinterest prevailed. Football stagnated until that magical 1992.

1992: KICK-OFF
And it is that beyond the creation of the Japan Professional Soccer League, known as the J-League, and the international success of the Captain Tsubasa series (known as Supercampeones in South America), there was one key factor that further encouraged the football boom in the Land of the Rising Sun: the Home team’s first Asian Cup title.

If something showed the return of Peru at the World Cup in Russia 2018 and the Gareca cycle is that few things unite a country more than the national representative. In 1992, Japan hosted the Asian Cupa competition in which the Blue Samurai had hardly exceeded in its history, the tenth edition was therefore an opportunity to take a step forward and give a boost to the nascent local league which will begin the following year.

Japan started with two scoreless draws against the United Arab Emirates and North Koreaso he played all his options against Iran. When the tie seemed signed, the still young Kazuyoshi Miura appeared to give the Blue Samurai their first qualification for a final round of the tournament.

In the semi-finals, Japan beat China 3-2 to come through for the first time in a decisive match for a continental title.. The rival was Saudi Arabia, then double Asian champion and big favorite for the trophy. However, Dutchman Hans Ooft’s side prevailed with a goal from Takuya Takagi and sparked a party in a Hiroshima Great Arch Stadium filled with 60,000 spectators.

The big push came and now what happened was the long-awaited professionalization that Japanese football needed
. For it, the Japanese federation has imposed strict rules: Participating clubs must be independent of the company sponsoring them (the Japan Soccer League, the ancestor of the brand new J-League, was made up of clubs linked to companies), have a stadium with a capacity of more than 15,000 spectators, have financial support from local businesses and play matches in other cities if necessary. Additionally, the JFA managed to get the J-League aired on Japanese public television, another detail that helped boost the popularity of football.

The arrival of several renowned foreign footballers such as the Brazilian Zico, the Englishman Gary Lineker, the Argentinian Ramón Díaz and the German Pierre Littbarski, among others, has raised the level of competitiveness of the new J-League, which experienced a total boom in it starts with an average attendance of 20,000 spectators. It also contributed to the increase in the number of participating clubs (from 12 to 14 to 18) and to the fact that each team chose to bring in a reinforcement of stars from abroad.

Everything was going better and better in the J-League until 1997 a financial crisis had a very strong impact in Asia and Japan, which sent the Japanese economy into a recession that lasted until the early 2000s. The crisis hit the Japanese league, and clubs began to have problems coping with the millionaire salaries of their foreigners while that corporate sponsors were redirecting your money to mitigate the economic disaster. The decline in stadium attendance has also pushed many institutions to the brink of bankruptcy.

From every crisis there is a learning and that of the JFA was to ensure that clubs were not overly dependent on corporate sponsors, considering that the economic crisis had driven a few clubs into bankruptcy and left others on the precipice. It was like that Japan 2092 was born, a project of the federation whose objective is to have a hundred professional clubs by the year in which the centenary of the J-League will be celebrated.

In this sense, the JFA has encouraged clubs to develop a closer link with their communities and with local small businesses, so as not to be too dependent on large companies. Additionally, and most importantly, clubs have been forced to encourage work in the lower divisions and to work in conjunction with training academies.

The next step was the creation of a second division tournament in 1999 and later, in 2014, the J3-League, the third division tournament, was created. Thus, Japanese football already has over 50 professional clubs nationwide. The most important came from another JFA initiative: the creation of a local team that feeds on these clubs and their training academies. Many of these players first play in this team and are then signed by foreign clubs.

In Qatar 2022, they aspire to hit the table directly on the pitch where the saddest page in Japanese football was written. On the way to the 1994 World Cupthe Blue Samurai arrived with high expectations after winning the Asian Cup title and thus passed without major setbacks the first round of the playoffs. The next thing to do to move to the United States in 1994 was to be in the top two of the Final Six to be played in Doha, Qatar.

The Japanese national team started the final tournament on the wrong foot: they drew 0-0 against Saudi Arabia and lost 1-2 against Iran. However, they got back on their feet with a 3-0 thrashing of North Korea and a narrow win over South Korea. Against Iraq, all they had to do was win regardless of any other result to clinch their first-ever World Cup ticket.

Miura gave Japan the lead, but Iraq managed to equalize. Nakayama restored the advantage to the Blue Samurai and in the last minutes of the match, the country of the Rising Sun was already celebrating the qualification. The Saudi Arabia and South Korea games were already over and the Korean team had one foot out until Omran made it 2-2 after a corner kick and unleashed a nightmare on Japan. South Korea He got the ticket on goal difference and that game has become a myth in the glass where you watch it. In Japan, it is known as “the agony of Doha”; in South Korea as “The Miracle of Doha”.

For him World Cup France 1998quotas have been expanded for Asia and Japan were able to qualify after beating Iran in the playoffs. Since this Cup, the Blue Samurai have been essential in the World Cups, but now They need to take a step forward and break a striking irregularity: the alternation between eliminations in the first phase and in the round of 16..

It will be, curiously, in Qatar where they face the biggest challenge in their history having to share a group with powers like Germany there Spainin addition to the always competitive Costa Rica. Almost thirty years later, the Japanese team has a historic opportunity to redeem yourself and get closer to that goal of being world champion before 2092.

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