Greetings from Belgium: A Word from the Japanese Ambassador

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Congratulations to the Belgian National Football Team (No. 8)

The Belgian football team splendidly took the third place at the Football World Cup 2018 in Russia. I would like to use this occasion to express my heartfelt congratulations to all Belgians for this fantastic result.

It goes without saying that Belgium was delirious after surpassing her former highest World Cup result of the 4th place.
 When the Belgian team played, the streets in the center of Brussels, famous for being always congested, were completely abandoned. His Majesty King Philippe also traveled to Russia to cheer for the team. Driving forces behind the goals Eden Hazard and Lukaku, key player of the team De Bruyne, the amazing goalkeeper Courtois and the others, all of them gained nationwide popularity. On their return from Russia, the players and the officials from the Belgian Football Association were greeted with loud cheers from the crowd, which took up the whole Grand Place of Brussels.

As a Japanese however, I cannot get the match Japan versus Belgium, held on July 2 in the first round of the finals, out of my mind.
 Actually, until the middle of the second half, it was a game of which the pace was entirely dictated by the Japanese team. There are quite a lot of Belgians who told me they were sad until the middle of the second half, thinking that without a doubt Japan would win. I think that it was, in terms of contents, really a match which went beyond its score of 2 to 3.
 For the Japanese team it was a truly disappointing game development that we could not keep the dominant position and were caught up at the end of the second half of the game, giving away the winning goal at the very last minute. However, the Belgian team was truly wonderful, with its strong attitude not to give up until the end, and its persistent will to win, in combination with a variety of skills of the unique individual players. I think that the Japanese team should learn quite a lot from them.

It was in November of last year in the stadium of Bruges that the Japanese national team played an international friendly match against the Belgian national team, in preparation for the World Cup. Of course, the tension and the players' drive at the actual World Cup games are not the same as in international friendlies, but that time too, the Japanese team played a pretty nice game. The 0 to 1 loss to Belgium was due to the inability to prevent the header by Lukaku, who made full use of his skills and tallness. However, I remember that the Japanese defenders were particularly active and that it was an impressive match.

Because I felt grateful towards the Royal Belgian Football Association at this friendly match, I invited the officials involved to a dinner party in February, and we enjoyed Japanese cuisine and sake together. I recall these memories of talking cordially with the executives of Royal Belgian Football Association, including President Linard and coach Martinez as if it were yesterday.
 I told them that it is only natural that the Belgian national team, widely considered as a candidate for winning the World Cup, would advance to a few top teams. However, President Linard was careful in his remarks saying that there are no easy games at the World Cup at all, that in the end it comes down to putting every effort into every single game, and that only the accumulation of those results will be the final outcome. I also heard from coach Martinez that the Japanese have a good team with an especially high-level defense.

 As the composition of the preliminary league was already known at that time, with Belgium belonging to Group G and Japan belonging to Group H, we cheered each other on and said goodbye mentioning it would be great if Japan and Belgium could both advance together in the tournament and have an opportunity to play against each other.
 In the end it turned out exactly like that. Looking back at it now, I find it is something deeply moving.


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