Friday, June 20, 2014

Japan v. Greece: Why people who hate soccer hate soccer

Japan's Samurai Blue blew it
Quinta-feira, Thursday, was the last of the World Cup games for this World Cup trip.  And it was the perfect game on which to end the soccer viewing part of this trip:  Japão contra Grécia nas Arenas das Dunas in beautiful downtown Natal (actually, south of downtown).

We had been lucky so far with the games we saw.  Mexico 1, Cameroon 0, featured far more action and excitement than you would expect from a one-goal game.  Ivory Coast 2, Japan 1, in Recife was fantastic if for no other reason than to see the bolt of electricity shoot through Ivory Coast when they scored two quick goals immediately upon substituting their talisman-star Didier Drogba. And USA 2, Ghana 1, was an absolute classic, made even better by knowing the eyes of America were finally on USA international soccer.

This game would have none of that.

Pregame practice
Arenas Das Dunas once again was looking great.  And the opening ceremonies are always well done.

Japan and Greece come out onto the pitch
Then the game started.

Getting ready for the opening kick
The crowd was largely made up of two groups.  Japaneses.  And Japan-o-philic Americans who stayed over after Monday's Ghana to cheer on Japan.  The Japanese had completely taken over Natal by game day.  Which meant no seats at the upscale shrimp restaurants.   More on that later.

Japan, known as the Samurai Blue, were in fact wearing blue.  The Greeks were in Corinthian Column White.  Which is fitting because Greece plays like Corinthian Columns.  They are these giants, towering over the Japanese, who play an almost immobile, impenetrable defense in front of their own goal and rarely (if ever) play offense.  Not only is not exciting soccer.  Greece is then precise reason that people who hate soccer hate soccer.

Well look at that! A shot on goal!
Occasionally Japan would maneuver through the tight defense.  And the crowd would go wild:

The crowd.  Going wild.
In the second half, down to 10 men and desperate to get a win in this game to keep their World Cup hopes alive, Greece even went on offense.

Greece on offense
And the crowd went wild.

The crowd. Still wild.
The game was coming down to the wire, with both teams desperately needing the win:

Japan tries to play Greek-style defense
And the crowd went wild:

Still wild. After all these minutes.
Actually, I'm being unfair.  The Japanese crowd was wildly enthusiastic throughout the game.  It's just a shame that they traveled all this way for a nil-nil tie.  Mexico and Brazil had played a 0-0 draw a few days earlier that was absolutely as exciting as sports gets. Sometimes 0-0 doesn't mean "no action," sometimes it means out-of-this-world defense.  Japan-Greece?  It meant boring soccer.

It looked like a father-son game with Japan the sons.  They were so much smaller than the Greeks, and yet they tried to score with headers off set pieces when their advantage was maneuverability close to the ground.  I'm guessing both of these teams go home after group play.

And with the closing whistle the World Cup soccer portion of this trip has ended.  Four games were great, but a fifth would've been too much.  If I do this in 2018, I will set a three-game limit.  And with the closing whistle, it meant it was time to walk back to the car, parked at Shopping Natal.  And of course the walk would be in the rain.  But the rain was brief and not at all hard.  It ended well before we got to Shopping Natal.

One of the great things about Shopping Natal is that it has an upscale fine dining restaurant right in the mall food court:  Camarões.

Camarões Shopping Natal location rated Camarões the first and second best restaurants in Natal (two locations).  Since the shrimp-loving Japanese were in town, we could not get a seat at the location closest to our hotel.  Then I remembered Camarões had a location at Shopping Natal.  I thought it would be a regular restaurant.  No.  You order at the counter and, 10 or 15 minutes later your beeper goes off telling you you can pick up your food.  On china.  With silverware.  In a mall food court.  It was AWESOME.  Without a doubt, it was the finest meal I ever ate in a mall food court.

And with the World Cup portion of the trip coming to a conclusion, the Natal part of the trip has come to a conclusion.  Friday will be a travel day.  Off to Belém.

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