Japan and Korea co-hosted the World Cup soccer tournament in 2002. The tournament ran from June 1 to June 30. The kick-off was in Seoul and the final was in Yokohama. Officially known as "2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan," this was the first World Cup to be held in Asia and the first to be hosted by two countries. A total of 32 teams played matches in 20 stadiums, 10 in Japan and 10 in South Korea, over the period of May 31 to June 30. Many of the stadiums were newly built for the tournament. At this tournament, where Japan was playing on its home ground, the national team advanced to the Round of 16. At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Japan rode the momentum of its victory against Nigeria in the first match to reach the Round of 16 for the second time in its history, after defeating Denmark and only suffering a single defeat at the hands of the Netherlands. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

The World Cup was memorable for Brazil’s brilliant run to the championship, the early exit by France, surprising showings by Japan, South Korea, Senegal and Turkey and Beckham-mania in Japan. David Beckham emerged as the Number 1 heartthrob of teenage Japanese girls. Everywhere the English team went it was mobbed by hormone-popping schoolgirls swooning as they caught a glimpse of the star English midfielder. Young boys and fans imitated Beckham’s Mohawk haircut.

Japan and South Korea battled each other fiercely to win the 2002 World Cup bid. Together they spent $100 million in their efforts to win the event. After Mexico withdrew its bid, the battle between Japan and South Korea was very bitter and intense. One Japanese Foreign Ministry official told AFP, "If Japan wins, it would take half a year to repair relations with South Korea."

The Japanese presented their bid first and promised to spend more money on the event than South Korea ($5.2 billion compared to $1.3 billion from South Korea). Their bid was supported by FIFA president Joao Havelange. Representatives for South Korea, on other hand, argued that it deserved to host the event because South Korea had a longer and more successful soccer tradition (Japan qualified, barely, for their first World Cup in 1998 while South Korea has made five World Cup appearances) and its people showed more enthusiasm in bringing the event to Korea.

Japan and South Korea Share World Cup in 2002

In an unprecedented move in 1996, the international soccer governing body, FIFA, selected Japan and South Korea to co-host the World Cup soccer tournament in the year 2002. Koreans were elated to get the chance to host event but disappointed they weren't able to host it by themselves. Afterwards North Korea said it would like to host some of the World Cup games at a 100,000-seat stadium in Pyongyang. The idea of having games in North Korea was considered but ultimately rejected.

There were a lot of doubts whether South Korea and Japan could unite for the event. One Australian newspaper called it a “Recipe for Disaster!” noting that the people of both countries “spent most of the 1,000 years on the battlefield cutting each other’s heads off.”

After the compromise deal was announced, FIFA watchers counted votes and said that South Korea had enough support to have won the bid outright. Later there was a controversy over who would host the final game. In the end, Japan was given permission to host it with South Korea hosting the first game and the two semifinals, plus being allowed to use it name first in the event’s name (the “Korea-Japan World Cup”).

Both sides tried to keep up a good face. There were numerous cultural exchanges between the two countries. An extradition treaty was signed. The chairman of the South Korean organizing committee gave a lecture in Japan titled “World Cup for the Sake of Human Happiness.” On the eve of the 2002 World Cup, the Japanese Emperor said he “feels a certain kinship for Korea,” which was widely interpreted as meaning that Japanese probably descended from Koreans.

World Cup in 2002, Money and David Beckham

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Beckham ad poster
It was hoped that the World Cup would boost to local economies. That didn’t happed. Some businesses had less business than usual during the event. Hotels that were expected to reap big profits had to cut prices because of last minute cancellation caused by foreign travel companies that were unable to convince soccer fans in their countries to spend the money to go expensive Japan.

More than $4.5 billion was spent to build 10 new stadiums, man of them in small cities in the middle of nowhere. After the World Cup was over many of stadiums had difficulty finding tenants and resorted to hosting weddings, flea markets and youth soccer tournaments and even selling turf said to have been walked on by Beckham, earning only a fraction of the millions of dollars needed just to cover annual maintenance costs. Some stadiums were designed only for soccer so they couldn’t be used for baseball games or concerts. The town of Toyota spent $40 million on a new stadium that wasn’t even used on the World Cup. The lost money was covered by tax payers and long-term government bonds.

It was also hoped that World Cup would generate more long term interest and money for local soccer leagues. That didn’t happen either. While television revenues rose, gate receipts actually went down.

The 2002 World Cup is said to have brought Japan about ¥2 trillion in revenues.

The only person to make out really well was David Beckham. He was paid millions of dollars for endorsements for products including cell phones, chocolate-covered almonds, beauty products and used cars. When he returned to Japan a year after the World Cup was over and was received like a rock star. On television I once saw four Beckham commercials in a row, each for a different product. He reportedly made $3.6 million from TBC (Tokyo Beauty Center) ads alone. On his appeal, one Japanese female fan said, “I devote my whole life to Beckham” and said Japanese women like him so much because he is “so caring and kind.”

Security Concerns in Japan During the World Cup in 2002

There were big worries about hooliganism, particularly from hard-drinking British fans, some of whom were barred from entering the country. Security was tight during the games at the stadiums and before and after the games in nightlife areas. As many as 7,700 police, some with dogs and many with the latest plexiglass shields, showed up for the games.

Because of concerns about hooliganism parents kept their children indoor; schools were closed; barbers considered locking away their scissors lest they be used as deadly weapons; car dealerships near stadiums moved their inventory to prevent theirs from being stolen; businesses were offered “hooligan insurance”; courts cleared the dockets so hooligan cases could tried quickly; police were given the power to arrest suspected hooligans and detain them for three weeks without pressing charges; shopkeepers and residents near the stadiums were advised to pack away flower pots and bottles so they couldn’t be used as hooligan projectiles.

Brit-free zones were established to keep British fans separated from other fans. At some games the exit signs for British teams were in English while those of the other teams they were playing were in the language of that team. A Japanese railroad company worried about hooliganism glued down the stones that line the tracks near Shizuoka soccer stadium. Japanese rugby players were recruited for crowd control duties.

The government allocated $35.6 million for anti-hooligan measures, which including the development of special gun-fired nets that could be thrown on unruly fans and pole-mounted wire nooses that wrap around the ankles of rowdy hooligans and catch like wild animals. “The best way to defeat taller opponents would be to trip them and then subdue them on the ground,” police were told. In the end all the money and traing went for nought as nothing much happened.

Japanese National Soccer Team in the 1998 World Cup

Participating in the FIFA World Cup, the premier soccer tournament in the world, was the cherished hope of the Japanese soccer world ever since Japan’s national team first participated in the qualifying round for the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland. The team nearly qualified for the 1994 World Cup in the United States, needing only to win the final match in the Asia qualifying round to advance, but the opportunity was dashed when the opposing team in that match scored an equalizing goal in injury time. The Japanese team did finally manage to qualify for the following World Cup, held four years later in France in 1998, after overcoming a string of difficulties that included the replacement of Japan’s coach during the qualifying round. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

Japan avoided the humiliation of being the first team to host the World Cup without ever having qualified when it defeated Iran 3-2 victory in an exciting overtime game in Iran in Kota Bohru, Malaysia in November 1997 to qualify for the 1998 World Cup. In 1994, Japan almost qualified for the World Cup but lost a heartbreaking qualifying game to Saudi Arabia in the last minute.

Japan's performance at the 1998 World Cup in France was pretty dismal. It lost all three of their games: to Croatia, Argentina and Jamaica and scored only one goal in the entire tournament. Japan managed a respectable 1-0 loss to soccer powerhouse Argentina but lost 2-1 to Jamaica, a county with a population one fiftieth of Japan’s. Masashi Nakayama scored Japan's only goal. It turned had broken his leg earlier in the game.Some avid Japanese fans paid as much as $1,000 for scalped tickets to watch them lose.

Japanese National Soccer Team in the 2002 World Cup

In the 2002 World Cup Japan unexpectedly won its group with two wins and one tie. It tied Belgium 2-2; beat Russia 1-0 and beat Tunisia 2-0. The win against Russia was their first World Cup victory. French coach Philippe Troussier was given a lot of credit for whipping the team into shape. Each player was given $65,000 for advancing to the second round.

The normally strait-laced Japanese went nuts over the success of their national soccer team. Hard-working salarymen played hooky so they could watch the games. Youths with painted faces cheered their throats raw in the pouring rain and chugged beers in the streets. The win against Tunisia in Osaka was followed by a massive party in the downtown area in which 900 excited fans jumped off a bridge into the foul, polluted Dotonborigawa River. In Tokyo, police joined in the revelry, tossing fans into the air Eskimo-blanket-style. Some of the people who partied all night helped pick up trash the following morning.

In the second round, Japan lost to Turkey 1-0 on a rainy day. Turkey got its goal after only 12 minutes when midfielder Umit Davala headed in a corner kick by Ergan Penbe awarded after Japan made a couple of defensive errors. Turkey clearly outplayed Japan. They controlled the ball more, had more scoring opportunities and repeatedly stole the ball from Japanese players who got within striking range. The Japanese crowd cheered relentlessly despite the heavy rain. Afterwards Japanese midfielder Shinji Ono said, “Today, we wanted to win but we couldn’t.”

Japanese National Soccer Team in the 2006 World Cup

The 2006 World Cup team was coached by Brazilian great Zico. The Japanese team never really congealed under him. It won the Asian Cup and had some dramatic wins under him but also had many disappointing losses and poor performances against weak teams, and worst of all it played poorly in the World Cup. After the World Cup was over Zico criticized the players and hopped on plane, acting as if he couldn’t get out of Japan fast enough even though he had lived there since 1992.

In the 2006 World Cup Japan lost the opening game to Australia 3-1 after scoring the first goal and remaining ahead until the 84th minute and then giving up three heartbreaking goals in the last 10 minutes. Japan then tried Croatia 0-0 after the Japanese goalie Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi stopped a Croatian penalty kick. Even though they scored the first goal in the final game against Brazil they were ultimately routed 4-1. Japan had hopes of making it the second round, or even further. Instead they finished in last place in their group. Many of the players on 2006 World Cup team were the same ones on the 2002 team.

To qualify for the 2006 World Cup Japan placed at the top of group with North Korea, Iran and Bahrain. In 2005, Japan beat North Korea 2-0 in an empty stadium in Bangkok to become the first team to secure a place in World Cup It pull out last minute wins against North Korea and Bahrain to secure a spot. The game in Bangkok was supposed to be played in Pyongyang but was moved to punish North Korea for unruly fan behavior in World Cup qualifying matches against Iran.

Japanese National Soccer Team Qualifies for the 2010 World Cup

Japan secured its forth straight World Cup berth (for the 2010 World Cu) in June 2009 with a 1-0 victory over Uzbekistan in Tashkent. Shinjo Okazaki scored a phenomenal goal at nine minutes: taking a long pass, dribbling to the goal, taking a shot blocked by the goalie and then scoring a goal off the rebound. Japan managed to hold on despite poor officiating that sent one player off with a red card and resulted in the expulsion of Japan’s manager Takeshi Okada. Japan was the first country in the world to qualify for th 2010 World Cup as it was before the 2006 event.

Ivica Osim, the manager of the J-League team JEF United Chiba, became coach of the Japanese national team after the World Cup in 2006. Osim is from Sarejevo in Bosnia and makes his home in is Graz, Austria. Yugoslavia reached the quarterfinals in the 1990 World Cup in Italy when he was manager. In November 2007 Osim suffering a stroke that left him partially paralyzed but able to speak, He was replaced by Takeshi Okada, who coached the national team in their 1998 World Cup appearance,

Japan was in qualifying group for the 2010 World Cup with Oman, Bahrain and Thailand. It played its first game against Thailand on February 6, 2008. It and Bahrain advanced to the next round . In the second round Japan was grouped with Australia, Bahrain, Uzbekistan and Qatar. Its first game was against Bahrain in September 2008.

Japan tied Australia 0-0 in a February 2009 match, leaving it second place behind Australia but with a comfortable four point advantage driver third place Bahrain. It more or less wrapped it World Cup berth in March 2009, when it beat Bahrain. In January 2008, Japan lost to Bahrain in an Asian Cup qualifier. Earlier. Japan could only manage a 1-1 tie against Uzbekistan in its World Cup qualifier.

Japanese National Soccer Team at the World Cup 2010

Japan made a fairly good showing for itself at the World Cup in 2010. It got stuck in pretty tough group in the World Cup in 2010. The other three members were the Netherlands, ranked third in the world at the time the groups were chosen; Cameroon, ranked 11th; and Denmark ranked 26th. Japan was ranked 43rd.

Japan won its first away World Cup game ever in the opening game against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon with a 1-0 victory sealed by a cool-headed goal by Keisuke Honda and good performance by the defense, which shut down a powerful Cameroon attacking force led by Barcelona and Inter Milan star Samuel Eto. Japan lost it second game, respectably, by the score of 1-0, against the Netherlands, and played with flair and spirit to defeat Denmark 3-1 in the final first round game, with excellent set play shots by Honda to advance to the final 16.

Japan played tough against the Netherlands, the runners-up in the tournament who lost in the final to champion Spain. The only goal in the Japan-Netherlands game came on a rocket of a kick by Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder that deflected off the hands of Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima into the goal. Japan was outplayed in the beginning, with the Dutch controlling 69 percent of the possession in the first half, and had a couple of chances toward the end of the second half.

The big star of the World Cup for Japan was Honda. He scored Japan’s only goal in the first game against Cameroon after taking a long pass from Daisuke Matsui near the goal in the 39th minute of second half and faking out two Cameroon players. “I ran in hoping the ball would come to me, and everything just fell into place perfectly.” He also scored long-distance set-piece goal against Denmark. The defense was also strong, giving up just wo goals. Eiji Kawashima did a superb job as goalkeeper. The fans also did their part tuning into games that were played between 3:20am and 5:20 am Japan time.

Japans Big Win Against Denmark in World Cup 2010

Japan peaked in their game against Denmark. Arguably the best game ever for the Japanese national team. Honda scored the first goal on a long -distance free kick piece that look playable but somehow faked out the goalie as some of his free kicks had done in the past. The second goal was a perfect 25-meter free kick by Yasuhito Endo that curved around the wall into the bottom, right corner of the goal. Denmark then pulled back with a late second half goal by Jon Dahl Tomasson before Japan sealed victory with a third goal by Shinji Okazaki, who came off the bench.

The victory was first time Japan has scored three goals in a World Cup game. And it was surprising how aggressively the team played considering a draw would have got them through to the next round. Many predicted that much taller Danes would head their way to victory behind 1.94-meter-tall Arsenal striker Nikolas Bendtner. Analyst Michael Church wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “How do you rate a performance so controlled, so assured and so professional, that few who witnessed it could remember anything that matched or surpassed it?” “The maturity and self-confidence in display in what was a high-pressure clash was unprecedented for a Japan team. “

The television rating for the Japan-Denmark game was 46.2 percent at 5:20am. Many fans stayed up all night and then dragged themselves to work the next day. In Osaka, fans leapt off Ebisubachi Bridge into the filthy Dotonborigawa river. After the game retired Japanese soccer star Hidetoshi Nakata said, “I was really thrilled...They took the game right to them and didn’t sit back. There was some good passing, which is the trademark of Japanese teams, This is the kind of football I wanted to see all along...Japanese soccer is evolving in a short period of time, right before our own eyes.”

Japan in the Second Round of the World Cup 2010

In the second round Japan lost a heartbreaker to Paraguay on penalty kicks. After 120 minutes of regulation and overtime play, Paraguay prevailed 5-3 in the penalty shoot out after making all of its kicks, while Japanese player Yuichi Komano blew his shot, hitting the bar. It was the first time Japan participated in a in a World Cup penalty shoot out. If Japan won it would have faced Spain, the eventual winner of the World Cup. Shintaro Kano wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, the match “was a test of patience as both sides took few risks out of fear of conceding a crucial opening goal...In the first half, Daisuke Matsui rattled the bar from outside the penalty area while goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima came to the rescue to stop Lucas Barrios from close range.”

After the loss to Paraguay, Japan’s team captain Makoto Hasebe said, “Penalty shootouts are tough because so much rides on luck. It’s no one’s fault, really. I’m just glad I had the opportunity to play with this team and the coaching staff...I think we did the fans back home proud with our spirit during the tournament. We’ve been all about playing together as a team, first and foremost.”

Japan Before the World Cup 2010

The national team looked in bad shape going into the 2010 World Cup. It was unable to muster up opportunities — let alone score goals — and played poor defense. The team lacked team spirit and verve and was booed off the field after it was thrashed by Serbia 3-0 in a friendly two months before the World Cup. A lot of the blame was spaced on the Japanese coach, Takeshi Okada, who coached the team during its lackluster performance in 1998. Just a month before the World Cup began he offered to resign.

In games a week or so before the start of the World Cup, Japan lost to England but played reasonable well. Japan then lost to Ivory Coast but managed to break the elbow of their star player, Drugba. Okada told a press conference, “we’re like a swarm of flies that won’t go away, We’ll just keep at t. We have stamina, we’re fast in transition, we’re organized. These are our strengths.”

Japan’s timing was impeccable. The team pulled together just as the World Cup was starting, with the main players on the field and those on the bench all feeling as if they contributing to the spirit of the team, Veterans such as Nakamura and goalie Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi ended up not playing much but they helped keep heads cool. The team gathered strength as the tournament progressed and their final game against Paraguay could just as easily been a win as a loss. Okada ended up being heralded as a hero.

Japan After the World Cup 2010

A high point for Japanese soccer occurred in October 2010 when it beat Argentina in 1-0 in a friendly, Both Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez played 90 minutes. The goal came from a strike by Shinji Okazaki in the 19th minute. Japan beat Paraguay — the team they lost to in the second round of the World Cup — 1-0 in a friendly in September. Japanese won the Asian Games gold medal in December 2010.

Okada retired as coach of the national team after the 2010 World Cup. He was replaced by Alberto Zaccheroni, a 57-year-old Italian. Among his credentials were managing the first-tier Italian clubs Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan. He led Milan to a Series A victor in 1998-99 but only coached Juventus for half the season in 2009-2019 when the club finished seventh. He had never coached outside of Italy.

Zaccheroni, analysts said, went about transforming the Samurai Blue into “AC Japan”—“bringing big European club methods to the national team.” Defender Tomoaki Makino told Kyodo: “Training has been so rewarding. Every day is a learning experience. We’ve been doing the same things over and over, but the coach is just trying to pound things into us by repetition...Everyone is so focused...What he’s asking for can be difficult so we won’t get it down right away, but we’re making progress day by day.”

Japan planned to compete in the Copa America, the main soccer tournament for Latin America, in July 2011 but those plans were cancelled because of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Japan’s group to qualify for the 2014 World Cup: North Korea. Uzbekistan, Syria.

In mid November 2011, Japan beat Oman 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier, placing it eight points ahead in its group over Australia, Jordan and Oman, and Japan putting on the verge of qualifying for it 5th world cup berth. Japan won the thrilling game after breaking the tie with a goal in the 98th minute by Shinji Okazaki.

Image Sources: Japan Zone and Japan=Photo.de

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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