If there was a lesson to be learnt from watching the Japan – Belgium game, it was this: never be complacent, concentrate, keep fighting to the end.
You may think I have been talking about the Belgians, for the traits we associate with the Japanese are their will to keep fighting to the very end. Even in the face of defeat, giving up is a lack of honour. Remember World War Two? Dozens of kamikaze pilots crashed to their deaths, flying their planes onto ships to try to sink them. The will to keep fighting is honourable. And wasn’t it the South Koreans who pulled off an upset with Germany by their tenacity and willing to keep chasing the ball and fight, scoring two injury-time goals in the process?
Unfortunately for Japan, it was them that were outfought.
A 2-2 game seemed destined for extra time. In the last minute of play, the Japanese had a corner with forty seconds remaining. Everyone assumed this would be the last forward play of the game, and a corner, if unsuccessful, would result in the referee blowing the whistle. Instead of passing the ball short, the Japanese merely lobbed the ball hopefully into the goal area, where Thibault Courtois caught it easily. You might have thought he would have played it short, moved it forward slowly, or take his time, wait for his players to go up, and then lob one long into the area. Instead he quickly rolled it short to Kevin de Bruyne, and four Belgian players raced ahead to launch a counterattack that resulted in Nacer Chadli scoring an injury-time goal. No need for extra time. Actually, the whole world watching had been out-foxed. No one watching that game would have expected that counterattack with the last play of the game.
What lessons can we take from the game? The first is of course, not to get complacent. If you are like everyone else, you would have merely assumed that extra time would roll along. But the Belgians created their own opportunities, sensing a chance to win. The Japanese team might have thought they would have the last attack of the game, and in all fairness, so did we; but fatigue confuses the mind, and probably the sensory overload of time management and game tactic caused a lap of concentration that paid dearly. This can happen in any area; in fact, a Crouch End piano teacher reckons that one of the problems children face in learning the piano is the overload of work conflicted with the lack of time for self actualisation, that causes a lack of physical activity (in this case, piano practice).
And what a good week for Marouane Fellaini! New Manchester United contract, a goal in the game, an immediate impact as a substitute. Next stop – Brazil! The Belgians are on form at the moment and the operatic Neymar best raise his game!