Japan – which arguably plays the most beautiful women’s soccer in the world – was sluggish and clearly didn’t want to get out of about third gear against South Africa in their final group game. The match meant virtually nothing, so that was understandable. So was changing as many people as humanly possible (seven with an 18-person roster allowed). Still, it was a little embarrassing to be held to a scoreless draw by South Africa, even though they dominated proceedings. They should be able to turn the switch back on for the quarterfinals, though, right? Except the scoreless draw was a plan all along by coach Norio Sasaki to allow Japan to finish second in the group and therefore stay in Cardiff and not have to go to Glasgow, while at the same time avoiding France in the quarterfinals? Bah, you are your conspiracy theories. What? The coach admitted it? I’m kind of speechless:
1) It may take a while for Japan to live this controversy down
I’m going to guess that there’s a cultural difference at play here as well, and that doing what Japan did will be much more acceptable at home. But, as noted sports philosopher Herman Edwards once said, “You play to win the game.” Again, taking your starters out to give them a rest? I can deal with that. Playing a little more conservatively than you normally would because you don’t want to get anyone hurt? I’m OK with that. Purposefully not scoring goals to try to get a desired result that might help you late in the tournament? I’m not down with that. Maybe with a couple of minutes left if you know what is going on elsewhere? But even then, I don’t think so. Just seems unsportsmanlike to me, and at the Olympics and all, shouldn’t sportsmanship take precedence. And it’s not like it was the difference between advancing or not for Japan, the difference between traveling a few hundred miles and playing France is really worth doing this? It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth, doesn’t it? And those have trouble disappearing, even over time.
2) Why did Japan even have to say anything then?
Yes, Japan was terrible and there were a couple of moments where the conspiracy-leaning part of your brain wondered, but it’s not like Japan never even tried to take a shot on goal or anything. They actually came close more than a couple times. So why not just praise South Africa – in by far their biggest moment in women’s soccer history – and move on to the quarterfinals? Pride, I guess? But now they’ve got South Africa feeling a little worse about themselves, too. What purpose does that serve? I’m all for uncovering the truth, but when there’s no redeeming value to it at all, there are cases where it’s OK to omit things. In less serious matters such as sport, at least. We can only hope that South Africa returns to the world stage in three years in Canada, draws Japan, and gets another result. A lot of people would be rooting for them. The Karma Police can have long, long memories, believe me.
3) A conspiracy theory about the (not-so-secret) conspiracy
If you watch the tape of the game, it looked like Asuna Tanaka and Megumi Takase – two players who probably won’t see the field in the rest of the tournament – were doing everything in their power to score goals at the end of the game. Then there were a few other near misses, too. Obviously, they weren’t nearly as sharp or crisp as they normally are, and they didn’t exactly press for a winner in the closing minutes, but either Japan has a bunch of tremendous actresses or some people were cutting it a little too close. The whole thing is just bizarre and disappointing.
Stats and other things
There were only six fouls in the entire game, only one to Japan, which tells you what the tempo was. Japan took 16 shots, although only three of them were on frame.