The damage done to Brand Japan in the aftermath of the unprecedented Fukushima nuclear catastrophe is difficult to ascertain with any precision, but it is clear that the East Asian island nation’s global standing has been severely shaken. Repairing the harm inflicted on Japan’s international image will require more than the release of yet another revolutionary electronic device; nevertheless, as well as swiftly moving Japan into a post-nuclear era, the country’s elites would do well to consider the soft power advantages conferred by the incredible progress that the Japanese have made in the world’s game: football.
Japan only embraced fully professional football in 1993, with the introduction of the J. League. Yet in less than two decades, it has earned a coveted status in the global soccer hierarchy based on the following two factors:
1. Success. Since winning its first continental crown in 1992, Japan have become Asia’s pre-eminent team; Asian champions in 2000, 2004 and 2011, Japan have also qualified for every World Cup since 1998.
2. Style. From being a merely well-organised and hard-working unit at France ’98, in recent years Japan have honed an increasingly attractive school of football based on extremely precise one- and two-touch passing, geometric brilliance in attack and intelligent graft in defence. The outstanding successive coaching of Philippe Troussier (1998-2002), Zico (2002-2006), Ivica Osim (2006-2007) and Takeshi Okada (2007-2010) has been instrumental in this.
As the inspiring performances of the Japanese team at the current FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico (18th June 2011- 10th July 2011) illustrate, Japan’s footballing philosophy is now something that permeates its teams even at youth level. The Samurai Blue present a bright, optimistic and sprightly image of Japan; a priceless asset as the world’s third-largest economy struggles to rediscover its equilibrium.