China and Japan have not been the best of neighbors, considering the history they share.
Lately, however, there’s been a rapprochement between the two countries, especially after China’s foreign minister visited Japan in April. The stronger bond between the two countries was also evident during the FIFA World Cup as Chinese football fans cheered for the Japanese.
It’s been a tradition for Chinese fans to support European teams at international tournaments, but the absence of Italy and the Netherlands from the much-awaited sporting event in Russia may have left a void, compelling them to cheer for their Asian neighbor.
Fans from Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai were seen supporting the Japanese team, which proved to be the strongest contingent from Asia.
Many fans regard Japan as a role model for China’s weak football team. Players from the two countries share similarities in physique and techniques. The Chinese see Japan as a strong team that is able to compete at the highest level, and would like the same for their national team.
Japanese cultural exports also played a large part in this warming of relations. Aside from Japanese appliances, vehicles and expatriates working in China, pop culture icons also have a huge fan base in China.
This has led to an increase in tourism. More than 7 million Chinese tourists visited Japan last year, the China Daily quoted an official with the Japan National Tourism Organization as saying.
Even state-run media promoted the Japanese team. China Central Television praised manager Akira Nishino’s ability to lead his team to the knockout stages, despite criticism of their last group game.
Nishino had taken flak from pundits and the media for Japan’s last group stage game against Poland, in which they employed “anti-football” tactics. Their players passed the ball around to waste time, just to make it to the knockout stages based on their disciplinary record.
Japan was eventually knocked out in a close encounter with Belgium, equalling their previous record of reaching the Round of 16 in 2002 and 2010.
Chinese authorities have long looked to Japan for guidance on how to establish a good foundation for their own football programs, as have many fans, who have waited for a second Chinese appearance in the World Cup.
Philippe Troussier, who managed two top-tier Chinese clubs as well as the Japanese national team in 2002, insisted that the relationship between the two countries, when it comes to football, is quite robust.
In an interview with MSN, Troussier explained how China realizes that Japan is an advanced football nation that has done well at the World Cup. Although Japan exited in their first Round of 16 match, Chinese fans still considered their performance brave and impressive.
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