World Cup Fever has gripped, well, the world, but nowhere less than in Japan, where the sport that we call soccer and that the rest of the world calls football is known as サッカー. As early as 1968, Japan took the bronze medal at the Mexico City Olympics. However, Japan did not have a professional league until 1993 and did not play in the World Cup until 1998. However, in 2002 Japan co-hosted the World Cup with South Korea and has won four of the last six Asian Cup competitions. Today, however, Japanese fans are as fervent as any in the world, often chanting “Nippon Ole!” in support of their team; and well they should, as their team is the strongest team that Asia has ever fielded at the World Cup, thanks in no small part to Keisuke Honda, who scored Japan’s only goal against the Ivory Coast this weekend.
Japan is one of the most successful football teams in Asia, having qualified for the last five consecutive FIFA World Cupswith second round advancements in 2002 & 2010, and having won the AFC Asian Cup a record four times in 1992, 2000,2004 & 2011. The team has also finished second in the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup. The Japanese team is commonly known by the fans and media as Soccer Nippon Daihyō (サッカー日本代表), Nippon Daihyō (日本代表), or Daihyō (代表) as abbreviated expressions. Recently the team has been known or nicknamed as the "Samurai Blue", while Japanese news media still sometimes refer it to by manager's last name, as "Zaccheroni Japan" (ザッケローニジャパン Zakkerōni Japan?), or "Zac Japan" (ザックジャパン Zakku Japan), after the team’s Italian manager, Alberto Zaccheroni.
Zaccheroni leadership since 2010 has been highly successful, beginning with an historic victory over Argentina. His first major competition with Japan was the 2011 AFC Asian Cup hosted in Qatar. He led the team to their record fourth Asian Cup title winning 1–0 in the final against Australia. While his team lost 2-1 to the Ivory Coast yesterday, his next two challenges will be Thursday’s game against Greece, followed by next Tuesday’s challenge against Columbia.
Keen observers of the Japanese team might notice, however, that the Japanese uniform is blue and white, rather than red and white, the colors of the Japanese national flag. It turns out that back in 1936, Japan’s first international competition, Japan wore blue and white uniforms in its match against Sweden. When the team prevailed 3-2, the national soccer federation took it as a good sign and even today believe the colors are a good luck charm. In any case, if you don’t think that the Japanese take their soccer seriously, you might want to look again: