Barcelona’s veritable legion of fans in Japan will have continued to grow after the European champions' 4-0 demolition of Al-Sadd in the FIFA Club World Cup 2011 semi-final. However, not everybody will be cheering for Los Azulgrana during Sunday’s final against Brazil’s Santos.
Atsushi Shimizu is the manager of Tucano’s, a Brazilian restaurant in Tokyo’s fashionable Shibuya district. A Brazil football strip adorns the restaurant entrance near the autograph of Hulk, the Brazilian striker who spent several prolific years in Japan before moving to Portuguese heavyweights FC Porto.
Tokyo-born Shimizu, 33, played football for many years since he was at primary school, and his passion for the game - especially Brazilian football - remains undimmed. “I just love Brazilian football. It’s partly why I started working here seven years ago,” Shimizu said. “I hope Santos beat Barcelona in the final.”
Tucano’s is regularly packed with workers on their way home from playing futsal and other football aficionados, and regular samba shows performed by Brazilian dancers and, usually more than a few customers too, add to the festive atmosphere. What is more, J.League champions Kashiwa Reysol’s semi-final against Santos was shown live on two 120-inch screens at the restaurant.
And though Barcelona stars such as Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta are already well-known names in Japan, the FIFA Club World Cup has heralded the introduction of Santos sensation Neymar to many fans here.
He was in a different league... There’s an air of expectation every time he touches the ball, and you just wonder what he’s going to do next.
“I’d held faint hopes that Kashiwa might upset Santos, but Neymar just dominated that game,” said Shimizu, who was wearing a hat shaped like Neymar’s distinctive mohawk. “He was in a different league. He’s quick and so skillful. We finally got to watch him and Santos play live. There’s an air of expectation every time he touches the ball, and you just wonder what he’s going to do next.”
Shimizu is hoping the South American champions can go all the way in what is shaping up as a tantalising final: “I really want them to defeat Barcelona. I don’t mind how they do it, I just want them to beat the team that nobody can turn over.”
Meanwhile, Vivi, a Brazilian of Japanese descent who works as a samba dancer at the restaurant, will be cheering for O Peixe in the final. Born in Santos’ home state of Sao Paulo, Vivi came to Japan more than ten years ago when she was 15. She booked her ticket to the final more than two months ago, and there is only one team she will be cheering for.
“Neymar is young, but he’s already experienced and his talents are beyond description. I’m looking forward to watching him play, and I’ll wear Santos’ colours and cheer on the team,” Vivi said before delivering a direct message to his team's star man. “Hey Neymar, I hope you have a terrific match on Sunday. Even if Santos doesn’t win, I’m going there to see you play a fantastic game.”
For these fans, and many others like them, there would be nothing sweeter than seeing Santos celebrations on Sunday.