Yesterday, Japan recorded its first win ever in a World Cup match. While some countries (namely European and South American countries) are expected to win each and every game, for a small island like Japan, getting to the World Cup is a big deal in itself... Think #16 seed in a NCAA tournament. Just happy to be there. We'll do the best we can, knowing that's probably far short of everyone else.
Of course, having said that, I always have hope. Well... that and the fact that I'm demanding. I get this from my dad. Just relentless pursuit of perfection or doing it right. With him, there were numerous times I felt that winning isn't even good enough. It's how you win. Like winning almost becomes a consolation prize... like "well, at least you won. But..." and there would be million things I coulda done better. I always thought that was shitty... until now, I realize that's what I demand from myself and it has made me that much better and stronger, both physically and mentally. I remember back in my freshman year in high school or something. I came home with I think a 3.64 GPA (out of 4.0). For all you "A students" out there, that might be normal but I was your typical "do well when I tried but was always distracted and found ways not to study" guy... in other words, a typical teenager (and back then, we didn't immediately find some random "disease" as an excuse like A.D.D. or whatever). So anyways, I am extremely proud of this report card because before this, I always flirt with the 3.0 line (B average) but that's it and I always have to explain why I got a "B" instead of an "A" and heaven forbid, any of the classes that I get a grade below B, I had to explain why. What did I slack off on, what homework didn't I do, what tests did I not study for, etc etc. I hated report cards. Anyways... I get what I consider a pretty awesome report card and while I can tell he was happy, his comment was "well, we need to be careful because it can only get worse from here."
Now to his defense, he's not doing this to hurt me or to pressure me more. It's more of a defense mechanism for him. He's a pessimist by nature so it's almost like he's always bracing himself for what he considers the inevitable failure. By finding fault in everything, including success (or winning), he'll now at least have a reason as to why they couldn't sustain it.
Anyways, back to soccer... so my dad always thinks Japan sucks (which we do) and that we'll never win (I'm more hopeful). However, back in 1993, leading up to the '94 World Cup, Japan came as close as they ever have in making the World Cup. Japan's professional league called the J-League had just started and everyone was really getting into soccer. The guys who have grinded it out in the 80s when soccer wasn't nearly as popular was getting a chance to be on the center stage and everything was going well. We had our backs against the wall a few times but inspirational plays from unexpected players brought Japan to within one win away punching that ticket to the '94 World Cup.
The game was against Iraq. We were up 2-1 with minutes left in the game. We're approaching the 45th minute of the 2nd half...
When we were watching it, to call that devastating was an understatement. Up until that point in my life (I was a high school senior), I was never so emotionally invested in a team... that was such a painful goal. The goalie couldn't even move or react to the goal. There were ensuing questions about why... why couldn't he dive for it, why couldn't he react... but in reality, you know that there's no one who wanted to save that more than the goalie himself who was a veteran who played through the "dark years" of soccer in Japan. But nonetheless, it was so painful.
So, having that in the background, for Japan to now be pretty much expected to make the World Cup is definitely an improvement. And sure enough, yesterday, against a much talented but very poorly playing Cameroon team, we recorded our first victory on world stage... when no one expected us to...
While I still realize it's a long shot, if we make it to the round of 16, it would be awesome. Next up, the Dutch! GOOOOOOOOOO JAPAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!