Doha Diary: Japanese fans pick up where they left off at the last World Cup
While this World Cup feels different, fans' love for football is the same, says CNA's Matthew Mohan.
DOHA: Japanese fans have been few and far between at World Cup 2022 so far, from what I have observed.
I've been in Doha for almost a week now, and have only run into a smattering of them outside various venues. Perhaps not too surprising, as their World Cup campaign only kicks off on Wednesday (Nov 23) with their first group game against Germany.
But Samurai Blue fans have already begun to leave a lasting impression in Qatar.
In a video by Omar Farooq, which has received over 600,000 likes on Instagram, Japanese fans were seen picking up litter after the World Cup opener between Qatar and Ecuador.
"Japanese never leave rubbish behind us. We respect the place," said one fan in the video. "Not for the cameras," added another.
This is not the first time Japanese fans have caught people's attention with such actions.
At the 2018 World Cup, they also helped to clear up litter after group stage games. Even after a heartbreaking elimination defeat to Belgium, supporters stayed behind to help out.
'A WORLD PARTY'
The decision to award Qatar hosting rights for World Cup 2022 has been marred by controversy, with allegations of corruption and human rights violations, since it was first announced 12 years ago.
And this World Cup is undoubtedly one which feels surreal.
Stadiums materalise like apparitions in the desert, booze is banned in the stadiums and swathes of empty seats have been evident on television.
National anthems have been ignored, OneLove armbands have been eschewed, and the scrutiny on Qatar has been unrelenting.
We're only two days into the tournament.
But against this backdrop, fans have begun to bring a slice of the normality one usually associates with a major sporting competition.
And as Japanese fans show sporting spirit, there are plenty of others here who are also embracing the pure sporting spectacle of the competition.
Take Ecuador fan Jose Ricaurte, who travelled for two days to Qatar - Guayaquil to Bogota to Miami to Doha.
All in the hope of seeing his team make history.
"This is a world party so you can see all the nations around the globe here. It's a really nice feeling to see that," he told CNA. "We have a lot of expectations to make history and to be (the first team) to beat the host country for the first time."
Hours later, he was proven right as Ecuador beat host nation Qatar 2-0.
En route to England's game with Iran on Monday (Nov 21), spontaneous chants and the deafening din of vuvuzelas bounced off the walls of the Sports City metro station, as fans found their voice to grins from locals.
In downtown Doha later that evening, I spotted a group of Argentinian fans with luggage in tow scurrying across a busy street.
One of them raised his hand sheepishly at passing cars, and apologised in Spanish.
Seconds later, a car would swerve by with windows wound down, only for the inhabitants to yell: "Argentina!"
While this tournament may feel different and the questions about Qatar as host remain relevant, the fans' love for a global game remains the same.
Watch all 64 matches of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ LIVE on meWATCH. Visit mewatch.sg/fifaworldcup for details.