Saturday, 02 March 2024


The Dream is Over? Dreams Never End

 Japan 2 - 3 Belgium

July 2, 2018
Rostov on Don, Russia

Japan 2

0 1H 0
2 2H 3

3 Belgium

Keisuke Honda (48')
Takashi Inui (52')

Scoring Jan Vertonghen (69')
Maroune Fellaini (74')
Nacer Chadli (90+5')
Gaku Shibasaki  Cautions  

  Eiji Kawashima, Hiroki Sakai, Gen Shoji, Maya Yoshida, Yuto Nagatomo; Makoto Hasebe, Gaku Shibasaki (Hotaru Yamaguchi 77'); Takashi Inui, Shinji Kagawa, Genki Haraguchi (Keisuke Honda 77'); Yuya Osako 
 Courtois, Alderweireld, Kompany, Vertonghen, Meunier, De Bruyne, Witsel, Carrasco, Mertens, Hazard, Lukaku

The fairy tale is over. The final chapter played out in the dim half-light of a Japanese predawn, with all the heartwrenching emotion we have come to expect.

Yes, I should have known from the start that any fairy tale involving the Samurai Blue would have to be a Japanese fairy tale - the ones that end in heroic yet tragic circumstances. The Japanese have always loved their tragic heroes. Indeed, those whose lives do not contain a healthy dose of tragedy are either not truly heroes, or not truly Japanese. The native sentiment brooks no exceptions. While most nations bask in memories of their greatest successes, there is something about the Japanese character that seems to embrace failure – not as a depressing gloom to wallow in, but as a valuable lesson in humility and impermanence; a challenge that the human spirit forever seeks to rise above. This has been true throughout the ages.

Even Japan’s most ancient and most revered cultural hero met the same bittersweet fate. In the ancient annals of the Kojiki, no legend is greater than that of Prince Takeru Yamato. Literally, Takeru means “brave” and Yamato is the original name for Japan, so "Takeru Yamato" is a literal translation of the name for a cultural hero -- “Brave Japan”. His legend lies at the heart of all true native sentiment, providing the template for all that embodies the samurai spirit of Japan, or “Yamatodamashi.”

Like cultural heroes all over the world, Prince Yamato subdues all the mythical monsters and enemy armies. But unlike the shining victors of most western fairy tales, his heroic life is plagued with tragedy. When a storm at sea threatens to sink his ship and end the quest before it can be fulfilled, his wife placates the angry sea by leaping into its depths, while all his companions and comrades die one by one in the mighty battles fought to create the nation that today we call Japan. Returning from the task of subduing all the hostile armies, he gazes once more upon the bay where she died and his heart breaks, leaving him a shattered, shell of a man. Limping on, broken in spirit, he meets with a monstrous serpent, which he subdues, but only after horrific injury, and with his final breath he crawls forward to die on the steps of the Great Shrine of Ise – Japan’s most sacred site – his mission, and his tragedy, complete.

The Samurai Blue may not have written so flamboyant a tale as that one, but the bravery, the fighting spirit, and the heartcrushing tragedy was just the same. They are the cultural heroes of a new generation, and perhaps we always should have known that this was how their tale would end.

Some would hang their heads in gloom, sob tears into their pillows as the new day dawns and this Midsummer Night's Dream finally comes to an end. But wasnt it grand!? Didnt your heart leap in your breast as those magnificent Samurai Blue surged into the lead, and stood for an instant on the precipice of history like titans?!? Like half-formed gods!? And even the horror of that final Belgium counterattack . . . . can you imagine that even the most perfect victory could be as emotionally compelling? Could it remain etched in your consciousness as indelibly as that gloriously brutal deathknell? No.... these are the memories that will persist, for as long as you love the Beautiful Game.

As morbid as the legend of Takeru Yamato might be, there is a powerful and emotionally compelling message in this feature of the Japanese character. It is not the failure itself that we celebrate, so much as the stoic ability to suffer the worst fate imaginable, yet still endure. Perhaps this is partly a reflection of the country’s disaster-prone geography, where earthquakes, typhoons and volcanic eruptions are constantly disrupting normal life. Faced with such uncertainty, one of the greatest human qualities is the ability to survive, to move on, and to rebuild that which has been destroyed.

Grace under pressure, perseverance, humility, hard work and unflagging determination are the qualities that Japanese people most admire, not only in legendary figures but also in their modern-day sports heroes. The Samurai Blue have rekindled the flame of pride in the heart of their nation. There will be time for postmortems and technical analysis. The clock will move onward and a new generation will take up the threads of this marvelous, continuing fairy tale that we call the Samurai Blue. For those of us who embrace their legend, no end is final, and the tears of today simply water the seeds of tomorrow's hope.

Thank you Puck. Thank you to all the greater and lesser kami who helped weave this magnificent fairy tale. Thank you allowing us to enjoy the drama, to bask in the thrill of the fight, and to lay utterly, devastatingly spent of every emotion known to God or man, here on the green verge of this new dawn. And thank you most of all, to the members of the Japan National Team, who have written another fairy tale that will be recalled on balmy summer nights long . . . . long . . . long into the future.

If we shadows have offended
Think but this, and all is mended
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear
And this sad and tragic theme
No more yielding but a dream
Readers, do not reprehend
If you pardon, we will mend.