Club World Cup Semi Finals

A rare occurrence for me – two days off! As I hadn’t been to Osaka before I thought I would stay locally. The weather wasn’t great, cloudy about 8 degrees with a cold wind. So I set off by foot for Osaka Castle.

Osaka Castle, Osaka, Japan.
As I wandered through the streets I noted the shape of the vehicles on the roads, they are increasingly becoming box like. Which when you begin to think about it is much more practical. OK, not elegant.

But for all those adverts that boast about the space inside, how much of that can you actually use? The use of space was becoming a theme. As I noted a bike rack suspended in mid air above those parked on the ground. Then a building no more than three metres wide, but five stories high. The petrol pump suspended in mid air, giving more room on the forecourt. The next observation was of the intricate network of roads, pedestrian walkways and train tracks above the ground. I reckon somewhere here there must be a noodle junction!

Osaka flyover.
Osaka Castle was originally built on this site in 1583 but has been destroyed twice – the latest reconstruction was built in 1931 and survived the war intact.

In the grounds of the castle I saw a jumper approach me, it was a mixture of colours, obviously hand made and one which you might expect to see a student with long hair in the 70’s wearing. This jumper belonged to Kenji, now retired but had been an artist. He used to make and design the curtains that would hang outside shops, with the bright colours and calligraphy.

Glico Man, Osaka.
He travelled to Europe back in the mid 70s (I didn’t ask if that was when he got the jumper) at a time when the exchange rate was good for the Japanese yen. At that time he didn’t speak English, but right now he was keen to practice.

He had always lived in Osaka, his family had a house in the centre of Osaka, that was destroyed, along with much of the rest of the city in the Second World War.

His parting shot was that he realised that Japan was changing and that customs were dying out.

Umeda Sky Building, Osaka, Japan.
I walked back and headed to the Umeda Sky Building, two 40 storey towers connected by bridges. Underneath the German Market was in full swing.

Later in the evening I headed for Dotonbori, an area full of restaurants.

Dotombori eatery.
The great thing (for me) about Japanese restaurants is that they will also have either photos or a plastic replica of the food they offer. Despite this I still couldn’t always tell you what I had eaten.

Plastic replicas in Osaka.
The weather forecast was getting worse and with little to do in Osaka, I decided to head to Nara, capital of Japan in the 8th century.

I wandered round the sights in the rain for a few hours before taking the 50 minute journey back to Osaka. By now the rain was much heavier and didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon. This reminded me of Rabat, Morocco two years ago when the rain was so bad they moved the venue for Real Madrid’s semi-final.

Japanese Shinto Shrine.
Seeking refuge I noticed a sign saying Japanese Buddhist food. Who could resist? I was greeted with a smile and after taking my shoes off shown the seating area and kitchen. I would say 4 would be the maximum seating capacity and definitely room for only one chef.

My host explained, with the help of a photo that there was a set vegetarian menu. There was no other photo.

This time I could tell you one course was Mushroom and Cabbage, oh and Rice of course.

Buddhist food, Nara.
The next day was the day of the first semi final. Surprisingly the visitors from Colombia brought more supporters to the game than Kashima Antlers, from Japan. During the first half I saw an incident in the penalty area in front of me where an attacker appeared to be impeded. He appealed to the linesman and play carried on. It seemed like 30 seconds later, with the ball now down the other end that the game stopped for no apparent reason. VAR (Video Assistant Referee apparently) replay was flashed on the electronic scoreboard.

Nacional supporters, Club World Cup.
The referee was now back down this end and appeared to have pointed to the spot, at the same time as playing charades, showing whatever it was we were meant to guess it was on TV.

Now having studied the replay myself, I believe that the attacker was tripped, but he was coming back from an offside position. Therefore the decision should be for offside, and if the referee thought the player was tripped deliberately then he should book the defender.

Of course these days the offside rule wouldn’t apply because he wasn’t near the ball, but as Brian Clough would have said if you are not interfering with play what are you doing on the pitch.

In the 58th minute Nacional equalised. Except the referee disallowed it for offside. I didn’t think it was. Can we have a replay please?!

Kashima Antlers fans.
This time despite the 9pm curfew the drums kept beating as Kashima booked their place in the final. I left the stadium with the tune of Ob la di ob la da ringing out from jubilant Japanese supporters. The next day I took the Nozomi Super Express to Tokyo for the second semifinal in Yokohama.

I could have caught the overnight bus which took 9 hours but I couldn’t resist the bullet train.

I remembered to sit on the left to catch a glimpse of snow capped Mount Fuji, on the way into Tokyo.

As soon as the train set off the bento boxes were out… when in Japan!

Two hours and 25 minutes later and I had covered the 500km journey and I was in the heart of Tokyo.

The cheapest way to get to the stadium from Tokyo was to take local trains, and so I left the football fans in Tokyo who would be in Yokohama in eighteen minutes and made my own way. During the course of my hour long journey I saw the white gloves being used to cram people into packed trains. I also passed through about 30 stations and mastered the Tokyo subway, still struggling a little with the tickets but I did save £30 though.

Arriving in Yokohama I found it amusing to see vendors selling half and half scarves. The funny thing was they were for Real Madrid and Atlético Nacional. I enquired of the person with the Liverpool accent if they had them ready for this coming Sunday’s 3rd place play off.

My seat in the ground just happened to be in amongst the Club America supporters, so if you’ve ever wondered what the view is like standing amongst the people waving banners, the answer is not a lot. Thankfully the crowd was only 50,117 so I was able to find another seat.

The game finished with the VAR doing what lots of people would like to do as he wiped the smile off Ronaldo’s face by informing the referee that he thought Ronaldo was offside. I knew from where I was behind the goal that he was onside. The situation was a farce as Ronaldo celebrated, the ref gave the goal and then stopped.

How can you have a VAR that makes wrong decisions? FIFA need to look at this, as well as involving the crowd, by at least showing the incident.

Oh but that would contravene the rule that says they are not allowed to show controversial decisions. Catch -22 I am rereading it at the moment.