Troussier weaves his magic again
Japan - 2 Tunisia - 0 The fantasy gets wilder and wilder for Japan. Joyous after a first World Cup point in their opening game against Belgium, delirious after a first win in the next against Russia, Japan went absolutely bonkers yesterday after a victory that takes them into the second round as Group H winners.
In Osaka you can measure euphoria by the number of semi-naked young men who dive into the Dotonbori canal, the filthy waters that run through the neon-lit entertainment district. There were so many leapers yesterday that a stranger might have thought the city had been invaded by human lemmings.
Facing Turkey rather than Brazil in the last 16 was reason enough for celebration but the fans had another wish fulfilled: a well-taken goal by Hidetoshi Nakata, Japan's pin-up. The players may be the heroes but the script is being written by the French manager Philippe Troussier, who again turned his team round at half-time.
Japan were disappointing in the first half, when Junichi Inamoto looked more like the Arsenal reserve he was last season. For the first time the fans were so quiet that the tiny Tunisian contingent in the 45,000 crowd made themselves heard.
But then Troussier's half-time magic worked again. Off went the crowd favourites Inamoto and Atsushi Yanagisawa, and on came Hiroaki Morishima and Daisuke Ichikawa.
Only three minutes after the break Morishima capitalised on a defensive error to hook the ball home. The decibels went up several levels with chants of "Nippon". And the players seemed transformed. Hidetoshi Nakata was suddenly spraying 40-yard passes and Takayuki Suzuki seemed to have found extra pace.
Another home goal looked inevitable and it was created by Ichikawa, who jinked past two Tunisians and crossed teasingly for Hidetoshi Nakata to score with a diving header. The crowd erupted into chants of "Banzai", "Nippon" and "Hi-de".
"This is a victory of the Japanese spirit, of the Japanese courage and the willingness to be aggressive by taking on the opponents," Troussier said. "We never worked out mathematically how we would qualify, we just always tried to play forward-looking, attacking football."
The post-match celebrations mixed pop star adulation, traditional festival rowdiness and a new football boisterousness that Japan's fans have been more than happy to pick up from foreign supporters. "I simply felt like I had to jump," said one 18-year-old after his plunge into the Dotonbori. With a Beckham mohican and an "I'm in Blue Heaven" T-shirt, he said it was the best way to show the passion of Japanese supporters.
A throng of young fans - drunk and stripped to the waist - pogoed in the middle of the crowds outside the stadium, much to the disapproval of residents. "It's a bit shocking. The Japanese fans are much worse," said one middle-aged woman. "I thought the English would cause trouble but they all behaved like gentlemen. Our fans are the ones going wild."
Mainly it was good clean fun, apart for the fans who leapt into the Dotonbori. If Japan beat Turkey, the police may need to issue wetsuits.
Tunisia: Baya for Melki (46), Mhadhebi for Clayton (61), Zitouni for Bouzaiane (79). Japan: Ichikawa for Inamoto, Morishima for Yanagisawa (both 46), Ogasawara for Nakata (84).
Tunisia: Riadh Jelassi (21), Khaled Badra (81)