Let’s enjoy soccer at its best during global tournament

The World Cup soccer tournament in Qatar kicks off Sunday. Every four years this sports extravaganza that pits nations against each other in a battle for prestige is one to savor to the fullest.

Thirty-two teams, consisting of the host country and nations that have won berths through regional qualifying rounds, will compete for the trophy over a one-month period. The World Cup is normally held in June and July, but this year’s event was shifted to avoid the extreme heat in host nation Qatar.

Many of the matches will be played when it is late at night or in the wee hours of the morning in Japan, which has a time difference six hours ahead of Qatar. There will likely be people glued to the live broadcasts on their TV screens or via online streaming for days in a row, and some may have trouble getting enough sleep.

Japan is making its seventh consecutive appearance in the World Cup. Japan lost all of its matches in its first appearance, in France in 1998, but since then it has made it to the round of 16 in three tournaments and has honed its ability to compete at a world-class level.

In Qatar, Japan aims to advance to the quarterfinals at least. Based on their past performance, this should be possible enough.

In the group stage, Japan will face Germany, Costa Rica and Spain, in that order. The key to Japan’s campaign will be the first match. Germany, a four-time World Cup champion, has a reputation for an offensive prowess that comes from its players’ physical toughness and technical precision.

In recent years, however, Japan has also seen an increase in the number of young players plying their trade overseas. Most of the Japan national team players belong to European clubs such as those in Germany and Spain, and many of them are key players on these clubs.

Regarding the strength of his Japan team, head coach Hajime Moriyasu said, “It’s when these players with strong personalities adopt the ‘power of harmony’ to compete in the matches.” Japan needs to find chances to win by combining the strengths of young and veteran players and using their signature organizational skills.

Qatar was the scene of the final Asian qualifying round match known as the “Agony of Doha” that brought an end to Japan’s quest to qualify for the 1994 World Cup hosted by the United States. Moriyasu played in that match. It is hoped that Japan will achieve its goal and bring joy this time.

The Qatari government expects 1.2 million people to visit for the World Cup. It is still fresh in the memory that more than 130 people were killed in a riot in Indonesia recently after a professional soccer match.

Security measures need to be implemented to ensure the safety of spectators.

The Qatari event is being held amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. FIFA, the organizer of the World Cup, has barred Russia from the event on the grounds of the invasion.

Spain and Portugal, bidding together to host the 2030 event, have announced a proposal to add Ukraine as a candidate country to jointly host the tournament to support the country’s reconstruction. The spirit of fair play shown by the athletes from each nation will hopefully bring a message of peace.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 20, 2022)