Eight minutes into extra-time, the Japanese players were starting to show signs of weariness and fatigue as their heavy legs seemed to defy their spartan minds commanding them to double up the speed. As the ball rolled out of play, the Uzbekistan referee blew the whistle to signal for substitution for the Japanese team.
It was the Asian Cup Finals last night (this morning) between Japan, who edged past Korea through penalties, and Australia, who demolished Uzbekistan 8-0 in the semi-finals. Australia, having only conceded one goal in the whole tournament, were looking to rise to the thrones of Asian Cup for the first time since being included in the tournament. On the other hand, Japan were looking to win the cup for the fourth time in history.
The fourth official raised the substitution board to signal for a switch between Ryoichi Maeda and Tadanari Lee. I was a little surprised when I saw the typically Korean family name appear on the screen. Instantly, I knew Lee was a Resident- Korean in Japan. Incidentally, Tulio Marcus Tanaka, the central defender of the Japanese team, is also half- Japanese (and half- Brazilian).
Even as Japan becomes more internationalized, with more foreigners coming to Japan every year, Japan still faces a serious internal problem of its rather significant population of naturalized Japanese who are not of a purely Japanese descent, but have lived in Japan for significant amount of time because of historical reasons. Resident Koreans, Brazillians and Chinese take up the largest portion of the population of naturalized Japanese. Even though they have grown up in Japan like any other Japanese, speak Japanese fluently, whereas some even have one of their parents as a Japanese, they are often misunderstood and mistreated, or not given their fair share of rights. Discrimination still exists in the society and these under-privileged Japanese might be even of a lower status, in some cases, than pure foreigners who come to Japan for work. The paradox of the situation indubitably is a prickly issue for the Japanese government to deal with, but yesterday, the whole nation witnessed a possible twist in the history of discrimination and misunderstanding against naturalized Japanese.
Less than 10 minutes after being brought onto the pitch by the new Italian coach Zaccheroni, Tadanari Lee swung his left foot and hit Nagatomo’s cross with the sweetest volley. Mark Schwarzer, the Australian keeper, stood rooted to the ground and was left in a state of devastation and disappointment as he watched the ball flash past him into the goal.
What Lee had done was not merely to score the winning goal that brought the Asian Cup title to Japan. By leaving his name on the score sheet, he left his mark and put to shame all the racists who had been discriminating against the naturalized Japanese. Perhaps it is time to quit all this brouhaha that a naturalized Korean had scored for the Japanese football team, but until the day discriminatory, as well as historical, issues are settled, there is little sign that these discussions would come to a stop.
On the other hand, as I stood in the hub watching the Japanese fans burst into delirium when the last freekick of the game hit the wall, and was cleared by the defender, followed by the final whistle, I wondered what would be on the front papers if the opponents had not been Australia, but Korea.