Long ago (1988) I moved to Berkeley and started sending a monthly "newsletter" to my Boston friends. When I returned to Boston (1993), I continued the tradition for about five more years (or until I had kids). Looking back, I realize that I was actually blogging. Each newsletter contained anywhere from a few to several blog posts. Having been silent for the past decade or so, I've decided to resume these activities. Don't expect anything profound -- I tend to focus on what I find entertaining or amusing and perhaps sometimes informative. We shall see!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Back in Edmonton: Japan versus England

It was a beautiful day in Edmonton as Japan and England met in the second semifinal match. Many of the Canadian fans had purchased tickets to this game, hoping it would be a Canadian match on Canada Day (the Canadian Fourth of July Equivalent, celebrated on the first of July). But, England squelched that plan, so it was an interesting crowd - a lot of Canadian jerseys, a lot of American jerseys, and many, many fewer English and Japanese jerseys (I wore my Boston Breakers Sameshima jersey). As the people behind me were overhead to say, "No one really cares who wins; they're just here to watch soccer." I was cheering for Japan, because I would like to see another USA / Japan final, with a different outcome than we saw in 2011.

The crowd was a bit larger than I expected (31,000). We only got 19,000 for the USA round of 16 game in Edmonton.

And our seats were quite nice.

Japan got off to a bit of a rough start -- they weren't connecting cleanly on their passes as we've come to expect from them. England, on the other hand, got a decent chance on their opening possession -- a rocket launched just left of the goal. Japan collected themselves somewhat, but I was shocked to see how different the 2015 Japan team was from 2011. In 2011, Japan connected passes like a pinball machine; amassing some ridiculously high pass completion rate. Today, they were missing passes, sending balls into wastelands of space, and simply not looking like Japan. And England was loving it! England seemed to have the speed advantage on both offense and defense. But they too struggled to put together a significant attack.

Then the game started feeling eerily familiar -- in the 31st minute Japan's Ariyoshi was fouled -- the referee called it in the box, awarding Japan a PK. And like last night's foul on the Americans, instant replay showed that the foul was just outside the box. Oops. Japan's captain, Miyama, struck net. Japan 1-0.

And again, eerily similar to the Germany USA match, less than ten minutes later, England's Houghton also drew a foul; Fara Williams nailed it, and we were back to a tie game (which seemed more apppropriate given the tenor of the game). The teams went into halftime at 1-1.

Only somewhat reminiscent of the previous evening's match, second half play continued with Japan dominating the possession game, but England dominating the attacking game. And still, this was not the Japan of yesteryear. The final ten minutes saw subs coming in, play becoming frantic, and when the clock reached 90, and the 4th official showed three minutes of extra time, most of us were anticipating another thirty minutes of soccer.

But then -- heartbreak for England. Japan raced towards goal and sent a low cross into the box; while trying to clear the ball, England's Laura Bassett knocked the ball into her own goal. Some of the crowd went wild, but most of us groaned, "No!" This was not how this game should have ended. England's losing the game seemed not quite right, but losing in that particular fashion was simply devastating. If ever I wanted a "do-over" this was it.

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