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Monday, 1 July, 2002, 07:00 GMT 08:00 UK

World Cup memory lane

By Phil McNulty
BBC Sport Online, Yokohama

The Japanese World Cup odyssey started in the idle curiosity of Kobe and finished in the fireworks of Yokohama.

It has been five weeks spent thousands of miles from home in a sporting culture that sharply contrasts with the traditional British attitude to football.

But for those of us fortunate enough to sample life in Japan, it has been an experience never to be forgotten with a thousand memories to be stored away forever.

Korea and Japan can look the doubters in the eye and declare the World Cup a resounding success.

But away from the usual images of the World Cup, another hidden life was taking place for those who followed the roadshow thousands of miles around Japan.

England's Awaji Island training headquarters was the first port of call for those who had hopes of seeing Sven-Goran Eriksson achieve the ultimate success.

And first port of call for those who had visions of living their life on a diet consisting purely of tuna and chocolate.

Tuna and chocolates every day - without fail.

Three weeks of a daily diet of tuna and chocolate before hearing Eriksson's words of wisdom.

Grown men were seen weeping openly at the very sight of another tuna sandwich or a dainty Japanese chocolate.

England's opener was Saitama and Sweden - the game a disappointment, but the hospitality a joy.

Imagine the surprise of a group of media men who ate and drank heartily at a small bar, while teaching the owner to sing "Forever Everton", when they were forcibily ejected - for trying to pay their bill.

The next stop was the frozen north of Sapporo, more like a mid-west American town than Japan, with cool temperatures and an air-conditioned stadium with a spectacular Teflon-coated roof.

It was the highlight of the World Cup for those who viewed the tournament through English eyes.

England beating Argentina.

It was memorable for the delight on David Beckham's face after his winning penalty, and the mischief of Teddy Sheringham as he made up for four years of frustration by gleefully rubbing Argentine noses in the dirt.

And it was remembered for arguably the most memorable incident of all, when the Press Association's popular England reporter, John Curtis, mistakenly strolled on to a team bus full of disgruntled Argentine players.

Argentina, already unhappy at receiving what might politely be termed a "send off" from certain sections of the English media, did not find their mood improved by Curtis' classic line: "Sorry Gabriel son - this is the press bus, so get off."

Osaka's only worthwhile memory was the oppressive heat as England drew with Nigeria, but it was the Japanese who celebrated before Eriksson's men when we moved on to Niigata and the last 16 game against Denmark.

Niigata's Toei Hotel was alive with sober-suited businessmen, who suddenly exploded into animation when Japan beat Tunisia.

It was all in sharp contrast to the tears of a Japanese female television host - peeled onion just out of shot presumably - when the hosts lost to Turkey.

England's exit against Argentina meant farewell to Kobe, the skyscraper home to this travelling band for four weeks.

There were tears in the foyer as hotel staff queued up to take pictures of the press corps - then sent a couple of brave porters on to the bullet train platform to pursue us out of the station waving the flag of St George.

The hospitality and friendship of the Japanese people has been spectacular, with one battle-hardened press man claiming he was determined to take to the streets to find just one unpleasant person before departure.

On the evidence of the last five weeks, it would have been a fruitless search.

So to spectacular Yokohama for the finale, with Japan's tallest building and the world's biggest ferris wheel as landmarks for a modern city.

Those of us brave enough to take the ferris wheel were treated to spectacular views of Japan's second biggest city from our base in the MM21 area - a futuristic zone that wants to create an image for the 21st century and beyond.

We were on a high, as Japan has been for the last five weeks.

It has been a fantastic adventure that has done Japan, and indeed Korea, huge credit.


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