Ultra-confident atmosphere for Japan's contingent of loyal fans

A group of Samurai Blue loyalists display the colours of Ultra Nippon, the committed group of fans who travel the world to support the Japanese national team.
A group of Samurai Blue loyalists display the colours of Ultra Nippon, the committed group of fans who travel the world to support the Japanese national team.ST PHOTO: MATTHEW MOHAN

Angry and disappointed. That was how Fumikazu Ota felt after Japan were held in a shock 0-0 stalemate with Singapore in Saitama in June.

"It seemed as if Singapore played five men at the back and they were playing for a draw. We missed way too many opportunities to score," lamented the 36-year-old.

Ota, who has travelled to watch his team play at four World Cups and four Olympics, described the draw as one of the worst performances he has witnessed in 22 years of supporting the Samurai Blue.

He is part of a group of fans called the Ultra Nippon, who travel around the world to cheer on their beloved Japanese team.

He said: "Football is my life. Wherever the team goes (to play), I will be there to support them."

According to Ota, an estimated 200-300 Ultra Nippon supporters are expected to be at the National Stadium today, with most set to arrive on match day.

Over ice-cold beers and plates of edamame (beans) at Lau Pa Sat yesterday, Ota and his fellow supporters from Japan gathered for pre-match discussions.

They are confident history will not repeat itself. While Japanese coach Vahid Halilhodzic may be under pressure to lift the disappointment of his side's June draw, members of the Ultra Nippon trust the Bosnian tactician.

Nakamura Shintaro, 34, said: "I think he is a very good coach. After his first few games in charge, he has improved the team bit by bit."

S-League club Albirex Niigata goalkeeper Kenjiro Ogino, who was also at the gathering, said Halilhodzic brings a good sense of discipline to the squad.

A former team-mate of Shinji Kagawa at Cerezo Osaka, Ogino added that the Borussia Dortmund player will be a key factor in securing victory for the Japanese.

Ogino said: "Players such as (Keisuke) Honda and Kagawa may not like how the coach is strict but they will be able to fit into their roles."

Ota, who runs his own travel agency, is confident Japan can prevail tonight.

He said: "I predict a 3-0 win, with goals from (Yoshinori) Muto, Honda and Kagawa."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2015, with the headline 'Ultra-confident atmosphere for Japan's contingent of loyal fans'. Print Edition | Subscribe