It was easier to see Australian fans drinking in the bars and pubs of a busy and balmy Frankfurt on Sunday night than it was to see them on the 7:54 breakfast special to Kaiserslautern for their opening Group F match with Japan. It was the blue-shirted Japanese that were well-represented on platform seven for the first train of the day –insert national stereotypical remark here.
During a World Cup, when life revolves around football and the games, it is easy to forget that normal life continues. The hordes of commuters on a Monday morning into Frankfurt’s main railway station, ready to keep the wheels of one of the world’s main finance and banking sections well-oiled, had to fight their way past groups of Japanese, some of whom getting rather well-oiled themselves, knocking back bumper bottles of Becks beer.
Still, as one would expect at such a time, the atmosphere was restrained, although with the train due to arrive in the small city of Kaiserslautern at 9.20, a full five and a half hours before kick-off, there was plenty of time for spirits to rise.
Spirits had been pretty high the previous day too, with the Australians in a confident mood prior to their meeting with the Asian champions.
“It’s going to be easy, 2-0” said a group of Antipodean drinkers on Sunday afternoon.
Even the more restrained Socceroos were predicting a first ever win for Australia in the World Cup.
“Our midfield and attack will be too strong,” said Paul Thornfield of Newcastle, “we may not have great strength in depth but our starting eleven is pretty good.”
More sober reflections were in evidence from the Japanese on the train.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Takuro Mikami, a 23 year-old studying Danish in Copenhagen. “But we have to win the first match, it’s so important if we want to reach the second round. Our coach Zico is very famous but as a coach he is not so intelligent. He is lucky though and that will help us.”
Friend Madoka Sawata was so excited that she hadn’t slept for two days.
“I don’t know much about football,” she started, “but I haven’t slept for two days.”
Japan were first into the stadium too and had filled the front of their end with banners and flags while the Australians were still ordering their first beers in what must have been the busiest Monday lunchtime in Kaiserslautern’s small city centre since local boy Fritz Waller lifted the 1954 World Cup after a 3-2 win over the mighty Magyars in the ‘Miracle of Berne’.
In the build-up to the kick-off, the yellow-shirted fans were treated to ‘Down Under’ by Men at Work while those in blue got ‘Big in Japan’, a slightly smaller eighties hit by Alphaville that was pretty much ignored and stopped halfway through.
How Japan must wish the same thing had happened during the game!
The first half finished with Zico’s men leading 1-0 thanks to a controversial Shunsuke Nakamura ‘strike’.
The Celtic star’s cross eluded Mark Schwarzer and bounced despairingly or delightfully, depending on where you are from, into the Aussie goal.
It was incredibly hot even in the press box and in the second half, the players were visibly wilting. Such a sauna-like scenario means that the use of substitutes is of paramount importance. Hiddink’s turned out to be inspired, Zico’s less so.
The introduction of Tim Cahill and then John Aloiso turned the game and the duo scored the three goals - the first ever World Cup strikes from the Aussies - that broke Japan’s hearts and sent the Australian fans, who seemed to outnumber their counterparts, into raptures. It was harsh on Japan who with a little more imagination and precision in attack would have the game beyond the reach of even the redoubtable ‘Roos.
“It’s impossible to describe the emotions of that game,” said a sweat-soaked and hoarse Stuart Walker after the game. His girlfriend holding a stuffed kangaroo could only manage ‘revengeroo, revengeroo.’
The first train back to Frankfurt was packed but largely subdued. Most of the Australians were starting to find their voices again in the bars of Kaiserslautern.
It was hard not to feel for 26 year-old Japanese postman, Tetsuya Tsuchi, who had travelled all the way from the northern city of Sapporo to see one game, to see his team throw it all away in the last six minutes.
“I have had my heart broken,” he lamented. ‘By Aussie.”
Oi, Oi, Oi.
Copyright © John Duerden & Soccerphile.com
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