Thursday 15 December 2016, 23:34

Japanese fans lapping up festive atmosphere

Many of the Japanese fans who watched Real Madrid play Club America in the second semi-final of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016 wore shirts that showed their support for the Spanish giants.

Teruo Toba and his wife, Ayano, were in the crowd at the International Stadium Yokohama as Madrid secured a 2-0 win that set up a final against J.League champions Kashima Antlers.

Teruo, 38, has supported Madrid for 15 years, and his favourite players include Zinedine Zidane, now coach of the UEFA Champions League holders, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Ayano is a fan of Marcelo, but not only because of the Brazilian’s football skills. “I like him because he seems to be a real family man,” she said.

The Tobas live in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, so they did not have to travel far to watch the game. But three university students—Takuya Hirata, 22; Hayato Edo, 22; and Naoki Abo, 23—came from Gifu Prefecture in central Japan, and were more than happy to make the journey.

“Madrid are a world-famous team and we came to watch some football of the highest quality,” a visibly excited Abo said.

Hirata, a fan of Ronaldo, said before the game he wanted to see the Portuguese ace’s signature goal celebration. Ronaldo duly obliged after scoring Los Blancos’ second goal, as he did a mid-air twist and landed with his arms pointing to the ground. Edo said his favourite player is Marcelo, while Abo plumped for James Rodriguez. All three students would have been thrilled by the skills displayed by the Madrid stars in the semi-final.

Mexican support Some Japanese spectators were eagerly taking photos with the Mexican fans in the Club America supporters’ stand. Kizuku Shirase, a 25-year-old from Tokyo, said before the game she was looking forward to the lively atmosphere the Club America fans generate.

“I love watching Mexican football, and I came to interact and have fun with these passionate supporters. I hope Club America wins 2-0,” Shirase said. Although she picked the correct score, unfortunately for her—and Club America—it was Los Merengues that emerged victorious. Nevertheless, Shirase enjoyed watching a Club World Cup game live for the first time and the effervescent vibe in the stands.

Kashima have been the surprise packages at this tournament. Yet, some fans have mixed feelings about Antlers’ stunning run to the final.

Jun Hashimoto, a 38-year-old company employee, travelled from Miyagi Prefecture in northern Japan to Osaka Prefecture on a business trip and went to watch Kashima’s second-round match against Mamelodi Sundowns at the Suita City Football Stadium in Osaka on December 11.

“There was a brilliant atmosphere inside the stadium,” Hashimoto said. “It was like stepping into a different world.”

Yet after Kashima won their semi-final against Atletico Nacional to book a spot in the final, we caught up with Hashimoto again who, this time, expressed mixed emotions.

“Kashima have certainly done Japan proud, but during the regular J.League season, they finished miles behind Urawa Reds,” he explained. Indeed, Urawa topped the table with 74 points and Kashima finished third with 59, yet Antlers clinched the title after winning the championship play-offs.

“Antlers aren’t playing here as the Asian champions. I’m pleased they have advanced to the final, but I have some mixed feelings about it,” Hashimoto added yet, despite these reservations, he ended on a positive note.

“The Club World Cup has a spot reserved for a club representing the host nation, so in that sense Kashima’s progression to the final is an extraordinary achievement. We really should be delighted about this. I want Kashima to learn from this tournament and qualify for next year’s Club World Cup as Asian champions.”

The final and the match for third place will be played at the International Stadium Yokohama on 18 December. Japanese fans wearing shirts of all the teams will undoubtedly pack the stadium and create an electric atmosphere.