When Yoichi Takahashi is asked why he created Captain Tsubasa, that manga turned anime where achieving a goal can take an entire chapter, the Japanese cartoonist answers, innocently, that it was because of a chimera. Shocked by the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, he imagined that Japan would one day give in to that atavistic sport that the English regulated. In other words, He was a man from the other side of the world who dreamed of seeing his country playing soccer.
Until France 98, Japan had never played a World Cup. Almost a whole century away from the sports festival that paralyzes most societies on the globe. After that tournament, he not only qualified for all the World Cups that followed, but also qualified to the round of 16 in three of them. And, as if that were not enough, he had the pleasure of being the co-organizer of the 2002 Cup, along with South Korea.
Since the eighties, his league has been leaving amateurism. But it wasn’t until 1992 that the Japan Football Federation (JFA) gave the big signal that it was taking soccer seriously. Supported by the example of the United States, they devised a project to raise the level of their leagues with veteran crack talent, who wanted to boost their salaries in their last years. His most emblematic antecedent is the Brazilian Zico, heir to Pelé’s 10, who displayed subtleties in the Kashima Antlers until he was 41, in the first five years of the nineties. That plan was born daring: they set to be world champions in 2092. An ambitious plan for the very long term, because they believed that the process would take a long time.
The Japanese leaders of that time must have exhausted all the sakes of the house after the 2-1 victory against Germany, the second country that has lifted the World Cup the second most times after Brazil: four.
Although the Germans left Russia 2018 in the first round, at the hands of Korea, this Hansi Flick team was more excited than that one for a generational change with exclusive figures, such as Havertz, Gnabry and Musiala. And led by two veterans in both areas: Neuer in goal and Muller in attack.
At 33′, when Gundogan converted from a penalty, the Germans were not at their best, precisely. The plasticity and solidarity of the Japanese who seemed to multiply in the field was a delight. And when they got it back they didn’t foolishly lose it. They learned well that sappy lesson from the Super Champions that the ball is their friend.
In the Japanese goal, Shuichi Gonda was a spectacle: in the first half he had a quadruple save that already entered the Qatar 2022 ranking early.
Hajime Moriyasu, the coach of Japan, had a surprise in store for the Germans in the second half: the midfielder Ritsu Doan and the striker Takuma Asano, both footballers who play for Bundesliga clubs. Doan at Freiburg and Asano at Bochum. Who better than them to read those of Hansi Flick? He was right. Quite the opposite of the German coach who had the brilliant idea of taking out Gundogan, the clearest to distribute, protect and filter it.
Be that as it may, they were Doan and Asano, both with long hair, like good Japanese, who turned the result and the face of the Europeans in the last fifteen minutes. At 75′, Doan crowned a collective play, in which Neuer left a rebound in the heart of the area. It was already a feat, but the Japanese wanted to frame it in history (it was the first time they had met in a World Cup): at 83′, Asano took advantage of Sule’s slowness, taking a few meters ahead of him to define with an unassailable punch.
When the game ended, the Japanese celebrated as if they had won the world final. Its people, in Asia, the same. The legend-fake of the Super Champions ensures that the adventures of Captain Tsubasa were nothing more than the dream of a child without legs, in a hospital. Wake up easy, Japanese friends, believe it: he existed and we all saw it.