Led by head coach Akira Nishino, graduate of the School of Education at Waseda University and former active member of the Waseda Association Football Club, the national team of Japan came close in getting into the top eight at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. Before the start of the World Cup, many speculated that Japan would be eliminated at the group stage. Proving them wrong, the Samurai Blue not only earned itself a place in the top 16, but also touched many people during the battle with Belgium.
In this article, we will take a close look at Nishino, the coach that became the news of many major domestic and international media, as well as at the historical relationships between Waseda and football in Japan.
Making appearance at Waseda after being selected as national head coach
On May 18, a month before the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Nishino was seen in his alma mater. The Waseda University Association Football Club had organized a send-off party to cheer on him after it was announced that he would be the head coach for Samurai Blue in the upcoming World Cup. At the party, coach Nishino was greeted by club members who graduated between 1975 and 1981, the period of time when he spent his undergraduate years at Waseda.
Nishino came to the send-off party at Waseda right after the 27 members representing Japan in the Ghana friendly match were officially announced. It had been years and decades since he last met many of those we are present, some of whom he could not even recognize at first sight. Feeling a little nervous, Nishino gave a warm opening address and talked about his determination and goals for the World Cup.
“For the past three years, I had been the technical director for Japan Football Association. It will be my first time on the pitch in a while. I will start by communicating with each and every single member to create a team that can compete with the world. I am grateful for the support and encouragement I am getting from Waseda University Association Football Club and the alma mater itself. You have given the courage that I needed to fight the world.”
Towards breaking the glass ceiling of top 16
Many sports journalists and commentators had predicted that Japan (61st in FIFA ranking) would not go beyond the group stage, but Japan unexpectedly emerged as the winner of group H, surpassing Colombia (16th), Senegal (27th) and Poland (8th) to get a spot in the top 16. During the match with Belgium (3rd), Japan gave it all and led the game in the second half by two points. While Japan eventually lost to Belgium 2-3, it was the first time in history Japan ever led in a knockout stage, an uncharted sphere that coach Nishino guided the team to.
“We have worked towards making major revamp to the team and every single member has given their best each day as they approached each game. The wall might have been too high for us,” said Nishino after losing to Belgium.
On the other hand, in the interview with coach Nishino after returning to Japan, he reassured supporters and Japan with confidence that “Samurai Blue will definitely have what it takes to make a breakthrough into to top eight or better in the following World Cup.” “We have received many critics and comments about the 2018 FIFA World Cup. I want to thank everyone, the team, staff, supporter and media. Your opinions are important to us and I hope you will continue to watch over each player and give them your fullest support.”
Japanese football history lies in Waseda
Miracle of Miami
Football history in Japan and Waseda University Association Football Club share a deep relationship. The club has produced many well-known and outstanding Japanese football players and key people to date. Before becoming the head coach for 2018 FIFA World Cup, Nishino led the Japan national under-23 football team in the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games which won the qualification to compete in the Olympics, the first time in 28 years.
During the Centennial Olympic Games, Japan had to compete with Brazil in the very first match of the group stage. Back then, the Brazilian national team was made up of very strong players such as Ronaldo, Bebeto, Rivaldo and Roberto Carlos. Even so, the Japanese national team brought about a miracle, defeating Brazil 1-0. Since then, the miraculous victory has been commonly referred to as the “Miracle of Miami.”
Getting bronze in 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games
28 years before the “Miracle of Miami,” the Mexico City Olympics Games took place in 1968. Among the players selected to represent the Japanese national team, five of them were graduates of Waseda University and formal members of Waseda Association Football Club. They were Shigeo Yaegashi ’58 (School of Commerce), former Waseda University Association Football Club’s head coach Masakatsu Miyamoto ’61 (School of Commerce II), Ikuo Matsumoto ’64 (School of Political Science and Economics II), Kunishige Kamamoto ’67 (School of Commerce II) and former national head coach Mataji Mori ’67 (School of Political Science and Economics). It was the historic first for Japan to claim the Olympic bronze medal in the men’s football games where Mataji Mori alone scored seven goals in the season.
Top four in 2012 London Olympics
The Samurai Blue at the 2012 London Olympics was led by head coach Takashi Sekizuka who graduated from the School of Education at Waseda University in 1984. He is also a former member of Waseda Association Football Club and former technical director for the Japan Football Association.
In the match where Japan and South Korean competed for third place, Japan lost and ended up in fourth place. Even so, it was once one of the biggest achievements the national team has achieved in history. Astonishingly, the Japanese coach who led South Korea in the London Olympics was Seigo Ikeda, who also happened to be a graduate of Waseda University and former member of Waseda Association Football club. In fact, both coach Ikeda ’84 and Sekizuka ’83 both studied at the School of Education. The match between Japan and South Korean was thus also a battle between a senior and junior.
Japan’s first ever FIFA World Cup qualification
For the first time in history, Japan was qualified for the 1998 FIFA World Cup that took place in France. The head coach for Samurai Blue was Takeshi Okada, as you probably know is also graduate of Waseda University. He is a former member of Waseda Association Football Club, and studied at the School of Political Science and Economics during his undergraduate years.
Japan might not have won first place in any of the World Cup or Olympics, but the national team has undeniably progressed a step at a time under the guidance of many Waseda graduates and former member of Waseda Association Football Club. It is hence, not an exaggeration to say that Waseda has played a significantly large role in bringing Samurai Blue to where it is today, contributed remarkably to the history of Japanese football.