JAPAN IN WORLD CUP '98 FRANCE (June 10 to July 12 1998)

Japan played in Group H against Argentina, Croatia and Jamaica. It's quite something that Croatia in the end came in 3rd in the overall World Cup standing.
1.FRANCE (first time ever!)
2.BRAZIL (4 time champion
3.CROATIA (first time to participate)

Japanese players return home
In the afternoon on June 29, members of the national team arrived in Narita Airport. One unfortunate incident was that someone splashed water at Shoji Jo as he was walking through the arrival lobby. Head coach Takeshi Okada decided to stay in France to watch the rest of the World Cup. Wagner Lopes was missed too, because he flew to Brazil to see his family.

Japan vs Jamaica in Lyon on June 26 : 1 to 2
The teams that lost hope to proceed to the knock out round faced eachother for their very last game in the World Cup in France. Japan was indeed attacking the goal furiously from the beginning. However, the players were not aiming accurately enough. In the first 40th minute, Jamaica succeeded in a goal. It was by Whitmore. Then it was Whitmore again 9 minutes into the later half of the game. At that point, the Japanese players looked terribly dismayed, but they kept on going for the goal. Then 10 minutes later, Japanese turned Brazilian, Wagner Lopes, used his head to pass the ball to "Gon" Nakayama right in front of the goal. Nakayama kicked the ball right in. It was Japan's first ever GOOAAALLLL in the World Cup. But that was that. The Jamaicans clinched their first victory in their final game of the event.
Michiyo's Note: I really admire Nakayama's great fighting spirit. That's because, despite the fact that he fractured a bone in his right leg during the final part of the game he kept on playing hard. What a man! By the way, the game received a TV rating of 52.3 percent on NHK General TV.

Japan vs Croatia in Nantes on June 20 : 0 to 1
Most of the 40,000 spectators in the stands of La Beaujoire Stadium appeared to be Japanese onlookers. It was a hot day with the temperature soaring over 30 degrees celsius at 2.30 pm when the game kicked off. Although Japan had the ball most of the time during the first half of the game, there were a couple of times when the Croatian side was completely free to aim for the goal. But they were unable to score at all. In the later half, Japan again continued to pass the ball well to each of its players. However, in the 32nd minute, Davor Suker kicked the ball and it was touched by goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, but then, went in. That was the only goal of the game even though Japan had many chances to score. For example, a great pass was deliverd to "Gon" Nakayama who was right in front of the goal, but he could not aim at it. Croatian won without its star player Boban, and had earned a total 6 points to lead Group H. Japan has none, of course.
Michiyo's Note: The game attracted a TV rating of 60.9 percent on NHK General TV according to Video Research. That's slighly more on the same channel compared to Japan's game against Argentina. However, with Argentine's victory over Jamaica on June 21, Japan's chance to proceed to the final round was completely gone. That is, Argentine, along with Croatia earned the top two berths in Group H qualifying them to the finals.

Okada is main referee in his first World Cup game
He's not Takeshi Okada. That's Japan's national team head coach. Masayoshi Okada is the one and only referee from Japan in the World Cup in France. He made his debut in the World Cup on June 15 in the game of England vs. Tunisia. He cautioned a total of 4 players as the main referee. There have only been 2 Japanese before Okada who have made calls in the World Cup. They are Shizuo Takada who was the main referee in 1986 and 1990, and Yoshiyuki Maruyama who was a sub in 1970.

Japan vs Argentina in Toulouse on June 14 : 0 to 1
Japan marked it's first ever appearance in the World Cup this day. The stands were filled with Japanese fans in blue outfits imitating those of the national team players. That's despite the fact that many major Japanese travel agents failed to order tickets for them. Their cheers and chants were heard loud and clearly. The Japanese team held onto the ball most of the time in the beginning. Players such as Motohiro Yamaguchi, Naoki Soma, Hidetoshi Nakata attacked the goal, but didn't quite make it. In the first 29 minutes, Argentina's Batistuta had the ball in front of the goal. Japan's handsome goalie, Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi ran forward to grab that ball, but Batistuta kicked lightly and successfully aimed into the goal. 2-time World Cup champion Argentina scored one only goal of the game. . Japan afterwards did come close to a goal a couple of times, but finished the game scoreless. NHK General TV in Japan marked a 60.5 percent rating in the Kanto or the Tokyo area. Plus, NHK BS1 had 6.8 percent. These 2 NHK channels added together, the sporting event attracted the highest rating in Japanese sports coverage since Video Research started to conduct such survey.
Michiyo's Note: Hidetoshi Nakata showed terrific control of the ball, but it appeared that his teamates were not swift enough to respond to his moves. Kawaguchi too saved the ball several times and cannot be blamed for the one goal.

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