FOX Sports Insider
DOHA, Qatar — At Tokyo’s iconic Shibuya crossing, Japanese fans were so excited after their team’s big upset of Germany, they ran into the road … on one of the busiest streets in the world.
In a giant watch party at the Tokyo Dome, speaking of upsets, where Mike Tyson lost to Buster Douglas, fans hugged and burst into tears after their country’s epic 2-1 triumph.
In Saudi Arabia, a day earlier, a national holiday was called to commemorate their team’s shock victory over Argentina, while many of the many Saudis living in Qatar flooded the streets of Doha and brought traffic to a standstill waving flags with joy from the windows of their vehicles.
The sight of fans celebrating and reveling in national pride is what makes the World Cup so special. Watching these scenes, wherever your loyalties lie, you can’t help but rejoice in the heart.
Shocking upsets continue
Japan overcame an early deficit to score twice in the second half and stunned Germany in the two teams’ first World Cup match.
And from the U.S. perspective, the surprising first two majors in this tournament should also provide a measure of vindication.
Two months ago, Gregg Berhalter’s side played their only two World Cup warm-up matches, facing Japan in Dusseldorf, Germany, on November 23, and Saudi Arabia in Murcia, four days after.
No one is pretending that America’s results, or the performances attached to them, were good. The Japanese match ended in a 2-0 defeat. The Saudi encounter was a hard-fought affair, finishing 0-0 and with little mitigating entertainment.
“They kicked our asses,” Berhalter said after the Japan game. “We’re not proud of that. We think we should have played a lot better.”
However, as the past two days in Qatar have shown, these “friendlys” weren’t the total disaster many American fans made them out to be either, with some USA fans even calling for Berhalter to be fired.
The American soccer Twitter-verse was outraged by back-to-back disappointments against supposedly weak opposition and ripped into both the manager and his team, holding up the results as alleged proof that the current World Cup campaign would be a abandoned exercise
So, a couple of necessary facts here. Japan is a quality team that has grown in stature and level of danger steadily over the last decade and more. After taking the lead against Germany, they hung on bravely, but confidently, and are now in an excellent position to progress from one of the strongest groups in the tournament.
Saudi Arabia were outstanding in their Asian qualifying group, finishing top of the table with just one defeat in 10 matches. While their comeback against Lionel Messi’s Argentina will go down as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, their manager and players insisted they were not done yet.
Hindsight is wonderful, of course, but this pair of results adds retroactive context to what were seen as American warming catastrophes. No, the USA didn’t play well, which sometimes happens in set-ups. And no, the opposition, as we have now seen, was not a bunch of hopeless few, but the eventual winners of a couple of favorites in the World Cup.
Saudi Arabia fans celebrate
Saudi Arabia fans celebrate after their team secured a 2-1 win against Argentina, marking one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.
As for the celebrations, they continue. In Tokyo, translator Hirotaka Kondo told me by phone, fans partied long into the night after the Germany game ended around midnight. The next morning, elementary school teachers encouraged their students to make messages of thanks and support to send to the heroic members of Samurai Blue.
“People here love this team, but everyone knew the history and strength of Germany’s World Cup,” Kondo said. “This is a special day. It seems like this is the day soccer grew in Japan.”
Saudis, thousands of them, appeared to be spending their new national holidays planning to make tracks for the Qatari border, with reports of large numbers traveling overland and heading to the World Cup host site before the second match on Sunday against Poland.
And, in a viral clip shared widely online, one Saudi fan got so excited about his team’s victory that he ripped the door of his home off its hinges.
It has been one of the most memorable starts to a World Cup, and Saudi Arabia and Japan have had a lot to do with it. We have been reminded that no World Cup match is over before it starts.
That there are no guarantees in a tournament like this.
Stu Holden, Maurice Edu and Landon Donovan preview the USA’s match with England on Friday.
And, in an event where any small confidence boost is welcome, the Americans have a right to feel a small but worthy lift ahead of their crucial Group B matchup with England on Friday (2 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).
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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX i subscribe to the daily newsletter.
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