Wednesday, 17 July 2024


 Poetic Justice

 Japan 1 - 3 Qatar  

January 28, 2019
United Arab Emirates

Japan 1

0 1H 0
3 2H 0

3 Qatar

Takumi Minamino (69')

Scoring Zainalabiddin Abdulla (12')
Hatim (27'),
Afif (83')
Hiroki Sakai
Maya Yoshida
Gaku Shibasaki
Cautions Carvalho Deus Correira

  Shuichi Gonda; Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Yuto Nagatomo; Gaku Shibasaki, Tsukasa Shiotani (Junya Ito 84'); Ritsu Doan, Takumi Minamino (Takashi Inui 89'), Genki Haraguchi (Yoshinori Muto 62'); Yuya Osako 
 Al Sheeb; Carvalho Deus Correira, Al Rawi, Khoukhi (Al Hajriat 61'), Salman, Hassan Fadlalla; Al Haydos (Boudiafat 74'), Madibo, Hatim, Afif, Zainalabiddin Abdulla (Al Aaeldin Abdelmotaalat 90+6')

 As the old cliche would have it, "football is a lot like life" . . .  or perhaps, "life is a lot like football." Both have a funny way of conveying important lessons in such a simple, direct and poetically meaningful way that one cannot suppress a small chuckle of sheer delight, and appreciation for the karmic justice of the universe. 

I know, I know . . . youre thinking to yourself: "But wait, I just read this same article a few days ago". No, this is a different one. But the similarities should be great enough to illustrate the truth of what I just said. This sort of story is so improbable and yet so perfectly poetic that even Hollywood could not write a better script. Ingrained habit and partisan loyalty were enough to keep me rooting for Japan until the clock ticked over into injury time, but by the time the final whistle sounded, I think every true football lover on the planet was a Qatar fan.

That is not to say that this match managed to completely transcend the commercialistic, shabby, small-minded baggage with which Asian football manages to  smother even the most inspiring of stories. In this case, details like the one-sided officiating and the pointless playacting to waste time were mere distractions. It was only a few hours before kickoff time that the AFC even managed to confirm that Qatar would be the opponent, rejecting a (disturbingly valid) protest lodged by the UAE, claiming two of the Qatar players were ineligible. The details of the complaint are indisputable: Qatar's representatives include few -- if any -- genuine Qataris. This was quite literally "the best team Qatari money could buy". But football in Asia has never been about crystalline pure principles. What is the point of slinging mud, when everyone in the room is covered with the stuff, from head to toe?

All of that baggage really did not matter past the 12th minute of this contest, when Zain al Abiddin Abdullah collected a ball at the penalty spot, juggled it a few times, and unleashed the most audacious of overhead kicks. Shuichi Gonda lethargically flailed at the air as the ball bounded off the right post and into the net. From that moment on, it was clear that this was one of those events that has already been written into the Book of the Ages, and we are simply watching the events unfold in wordless wonder at the improbability of it all. If anyone doubts the remorseless inevitability of last night's result, they only had to watch the video of Xavier Hernandes Creus (soon to be canonized in Qatar as "Saint Xavi") predicting the tournament results with frightening accuracy, on local TV.

At the end of the day, this was a result that can draw a smile from even the most cynical of sports fans. Anyone can sit around and argue the premise that Japan had better players; the inescapable fact that was demonstrated on Friday night was that Qatar has the best TEAM in Asia. They exploited those team qualities for every single one of the 90 minutes, and battled obvious pain and fatigue to continue chasing and denying Japan a clear shot on goal until every last milligram of sweat, heart and spirit had been exhausted. Felix Sanchez designed a flawless game plan to neutralize Japan's strengths and exploit their own ebullient energy, and his players put that plan into practice with positive perfection. When the final whistle sounded, everyone in Asia had to admit that Qatar was a wonderfully worthy champion.

From Japan's perspective, the contest was disappointing, though useful in the lessons it provided. The youthful shortcomings of Takumi Minamino and (particularly) Ritsu Doan were exposed for even themselves to see, while captain Maya Yoshida -- whose inability to mark Qatari strikers closely enough factored in all three goals -- must surely have heard Father Time knocking on the door and announcing a two-minute warning on his international career. As for Shuichi Gonda, I consciously omitted him from the team analysis posted a few days ago, praying that I could get through the entire tournament without being forced to mention his name. Sadly, his inability to stop either of Qatar's two relatively tame shots in the first half said more than I could manage in a five-page vituperation.

It is pointless to dwell on the Samurai Blue, on a day when Asia is quite understandably celebrating an upset for the ages, a dazzling display of defiance, a triumph of the will. Japan will move on, and based on the results they achieved over the course of this tournament, one certainly has reason to believe that the coming era will be its best ever. But today, there is only one team that deserves to be basking in the spotlight. The giant killers. Qatar.