VOX POPULI: Japan's sporting spirit lacking in World Cup clash against Poland

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VOX POPULI: Japan's sporting spirit lacking in World Cup clash against Poland

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VOX POPULI: Japan's sporting spirit lacking in World Cup clash against Poland

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of The Asahi Shimbun.

June 30, 2018 at 12:20 JST

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Photo/IllutrationJapan manager Akira Nishino, center, celebrates reaching the next round despite losing 1-0 to Poland at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Volgograd Arena in Volgograd, Russia, on June 28. (Kazuhiro Nagashima)

In "Sakkaa Gurui" (Soccer crazy), musicologist Shuhei Hosokawa cites a philosopher to define the concept of time in soccer as "a state of continuous tension, contraction and heightened intensity.&qu ot;

There is no slackening while the ball is in motion on the pitch. But, Hosokawa explains, time suddenly comes to a "colossal standstill" when a goal is scored.

On the other hand, he continues, blatant attempts are sometimes made to run down the clock. When that happens, he says, "a game of soccer, in its true sense, is over."

In that sense, what we witnessed in the Japan-Poland World Cup match was "pseudo soccer."

With Poland in the lead 1-0 in the final 10 minutes of the game, the Japanese team ceased all offense, solely to prevent the final score from getting any worse.

To my untrained eyes, the Japanese players looked as if they were just practicing passes.

But since this strategy worked to advance them to the World Cup knockout round, I suppose one could call this a case of all's well that ends well. Still, it left a rather unpleasant aftertaste.

Come to think of it, sports fans are selfish cr eatures. They expect their team to win, and also to make them feel really good in the process.

Japan team manager Akira Nishino, who assumed the post only two months ago, must have been under unimaginable pressure.

After the Poland match, Nishino admitted his tactics in the final 10 minutes were “very regrettable” and left him feeling unhappy.

But unlike this game, the two earlier matches Japan played were really exciting from start to end. In the game with Senegal in particular, the Japanese players went immediately on the offensive every time their opponents took the lead. Those 90 minutes were indeed "a state of continuous tension, contraction and heightened intensity."

When Japan goes against Belgium in the Round of 16, I would love to see again the sort of soccer that makes me lose track of time and root for every player at the top of my lungs.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 30

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular dail y column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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