The day our FIFA dreams died

By Alex P. Vidal

“Nobody wants to be associated with failing to qualify for the World Cup finals. I cannot imagine the shame of it.”—Rio Ferdinand

AS Asians, we blessed the day we had two FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round 16 knockout stage qualifiers: South Korea and Japan. Long shot. Big shot.

It’s not only a shocker; it’s magic and beyond imagination in a European-controlled global soccer scrimmage.

Come to think of it. Europe controls both the soccer politics and FIFA World Cup. Yet, there we are Asians (South Korea and Japan) proudly strutting around like peacocks in the knockout stage.

It was something we celebrated for one fleeting moment; Filipinos, unable to qualify for the World Cup themselves, found South Korea and Japan to be worthy representatives in the critical stage as soccer superpowers Argentina, France, Switzerland, Brazil, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal made their presence felt.

Asians were no longer pushovers in the game that produced great booters in the calibers of Diego “El Pibe de Oro” (The Golden Boy) Maradona and Pele, known as “The Greatest” (move aside Muhammad Ali).

We also have Daichi Kamada, Takumi Minamino, and Junya Ito of Japan; Son Heung-min, Jung Woo-young, and Cho Gue-sung of South Korea.

But who cares? They’re not as popular as Crisanto Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luka Modric, and Casimero, to name only a few.

But the day we proudly saw the South Korean and Japanese flags fly high and heard their national anthems play at the Al Janoub Stadium and Stadium 974, respectively, on December 5 (Monday) was the day our FIFA dreams perished after both teams were eliminated.

But it was the day that will forever be etched in the memory.

Croatia dashed to pieces Japan’s amazing Cinderella-like ascension to the top in a penalty kick shootout, 3-1, after a 1-1 tie.


“Farewell Samurai Blue,” screamed one news headline hours after the historic match.

“Japan have enriched the World Cup with stunning comebacks against old champions, indefatigable spirit and a passionate desire to upset the football hierarchy, but the formidable weight of history proved too great in Qatar. Their own, and Croatia’s.”

“History repeated itself in this last‑16 tie as Croatia prevailed in a penalty shootout after extra time,” narrated UK-based The Guardian. “As they do. Six of their past seven knockout games at major tournaments have lasted 120 minutes, with the exception of defeat against France in the 2018 World Cup final, and the smallest country left in the competition are defying the odds yet again. Japan exited agonizingly short of a first ever quarter-final appearance. As they do.”

Four times Japan have reached the last 16 and four times they have tasted defeat, twice on penalties.

Hajime Moriyasu’s team were showered with praise after defeating Germany and Spain to top a difficult group but, facing their own fans and a chance to break new ground in the shootout, they froze.


With a sensational display of supremacy of the sport it dearly loves,

Brazil delivered a formidable message to their many World Cup rivals with a sensational beating of South Korea in the match that followed Japan’s elimination.

Brazil booked a spot in the quarterfinals against Croatia. It was as if the parade to the next stage had been set up for Brazil and Croatia.

Vinicius Junior, Neymar, Richarlison and Lucas Paqueta all scored first-half goals, with Paik Seung-ho pulling one back for a beleaguered South Korea late on.

The Athletic observed that ffter their victory, Brazil’s players carried a banner bearing Pele’s name onto the pitch in support of the 82-year-old football icon, who remains in hospital in Sao Paulo.

After the match, Alisson spoke to Fox about sending well wishes to Pele: “Everybody knows that Pele is not doing well, his health. He means so much for us Brazilians, he means so much for football.

“A small message from our team to him that we are praying for him, for him to get better, that we are together with him, that he’s not alone. You’ll never walk alone. He will not walk alone at this hard moment, his family will not walk alone.

“We are with them even if we are far away. So if we can fight here at the World Cup and win games for him and win the competition for him, we will do that.”

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)