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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 08:49 GMT 09:49 UK
Japan's time for reflection
Japan's World Cup enthusiasm is dampened but not extinguished
Japan's enthusiasm is dampened but not drowned

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England's departure from the World Cup - and the hiatus before Brazil's semi-final against Turkey - has left Japan reflecting on the downside of a tournament that has delighted the country.

Japan's exit, and England's emotional farewell from more than 1,000 fans at picturesque Awaji Island, has opened up time for reflection before one half of the World Cup roadshow moves on to Saitama on Wednesday.

The World Cup has been embraced with massive enthusiasm in Japan and, apart from the ticketing fiasco, can be regarded as nothing other than a huge success.

But there is no doubt some of the celebration has temporarily gone out of the event here, coupled with an understandable sense of wind-down, after the two most popular teams in Japan went out.

Japan gripped the nation's affections, and with the lethal marketing weapons of David Beckham and Michael Owen, England were comfortably in second place behind the hosts.

But Brazil will have support in their thousands when they play Turkey in Saitama, and the underdogs will also have their usual passionate backing.

And if previous evidence is anything to go by, the Japanese people will also lift their spirits and respond with their usual enthusiasm as the carnival moves to a close.

Japan's adopted team has also gone out of the tournament
Japan's adopted team has also gone out of the tournament

The big news story in Japan now is not David Beckham's hair, or the latest movements of Philippe Troussier and the unlikely success story of a team that kept the country in raptures for more than a fortnight.

It is the more downbeat, but in many ways equally important, concern about the standard of officiating in the World Cup.

The main headline on the front page of 'The Japan Times' is devoted entirely to Fifa's admission that "major" mistakes had been made referees and linesmen.

The cynics may say this is a diversionary tactic to lessen the achievements of neighbours South Korea, but one factor that cannot be doubted about the Japanese and their media since the start of the World Cup is their sense of fair play.

They may not openly celebrate South Korea's success, but there is no evidence it is begrudged.

Japan can be rightly proud of the way they have handled this World Cup, the surprise success of their own team was almost a deserved reward.

The news bulletins may not be as celebratory and the headlines maybe more sober - it is as if Japan is taking a breather before making the final push towards the finishing line.

But when the Brazilian carnival rolls into Saitama to face Turkey, expect Japan to be ready and waiting to finish an incredible World Cup in the style they deserve.


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