The FIFA 2018 World Cup was packed full of unexpected twists, turns and exits that shocked nations and plenty of outstanding team performances. Casey Baughan takes a look back over the tournament to reveal which team astonished us the most.
Whilst this statement could have fitted several nations perfectly, the Samurai Blue’s – Japan, pipped England and Russia to the post. Coming into the competition classified 61st in FIFA rankings, and having lost their coach Vahid Halilhodzic, it is fair to say Japan were far from organised — overshadowed by Spain’s managerial sacking. Their poor run of form prior to Russia was no vote of confidence for the fans, losing three out of the five friendlies, only to be an insignificant indicator of what we saw in Russia.
Across the World Cup
Japan built up a strong connection with football fans across the globe after their high pressing performances and entertaining matches. Their journey throughout the tournament was one of maximum effort and pressure, with newly sacked coach, Akira Nishino’s men becoming the first ever Asian nation to beat a South American team, Colombia (even if the majority of the match was against 10 men).
Not only did Japan blow fans away with their talent, but Belgium uncovered a surprise in the first half as they were pushed to fight a grueling battle against the masters of keeping the ball. To stun us further, Japan came out of the tunnel with that same high pressure, scoring two unbelievable goals between four minutes. It was certainly heartbreak for Japan as they lost their place in the World Cup but a sigh of relief, as England wouldn’t face them later on in the competition.
Japan’s star player
Takashi Inui turned their poor form into an unexpected run, making the country the fairytale team. To think Inui was a free agent before he moved to Real Betis, he proved at this World Cup that age is just a number. At 30 years of age, his pace, vision and tendency to score dramatic and beautiful goals placed him well above the rest of his teammates.
A taste of Japanese culture
The nation that just keeps on giving, their humbleness and cleanliness also made the headlines. Fans were pictured picking up rubbish from the stadiums after full time, whilst dressed from head-to-toe in creative and eye-catching fancy dress. The Japanese team will also be remembered for their remarkable gesture in Russia, after they spotlessly cleaned their dressing room and left a note in Russian saying ‘thank you.’
Japan will now face a future without short-lived coach Akira Nishino as his contract was not renewed. Despite their last 16 knockout, Japan posed a threat towards the bigger nations like Belgium, closing the gap between them. They are a strong team who has left a brilliant impression on us.
You can follow Casey on Twitter @casey_baughan