Lions of Teranga vs. Samurai Blue
Japan and Senegal know the winners of this clash will almost certainly guarantee a place in the knockout stages at Russia 2018.
Senegal produced an impressive all-round display to see of Poland in their opening match and will be confident of adding a second win against their rivals from Asia.
But having shocked ten-man Colombia to win their own first game, Japan are coming into this clash high in morale.
This will be the fourth meeting between Japan and Senegal, with the African side unbeaten in the previous three (W2 D1, all friendlies).
Japan and Senegal’s most recent encounter was in September 2003, which produced a 1-0 win for the African side in Niigata (Papa Bouba Diop goal).
Japan have won two of their three World Cup games against African opponents, though they did lose the most recent one (1-2 vs. Ivory Coast in 2014).
This will be the first time Senegal have faced Asian opponents in a World Cup game.
No Asian nation has ever won both of their opening two games at a World Cup tournament before.
Japan haven’t won consecutive games at the World Cup since 2002, when they co-hosted the tournament with South Korea. On that occasion it was in their second and third game of the group stage (versus Russia and Tunisia).
Senegal have won three of their six World Cup matches. They’ve got the best win rate of any African nation to play in the competition (50%).
Senegal have conceded just five goals in their last nine matches in all competitions, with four of them coming in the second half of games.
Only two African nations have ever won both of their opening two matches to a World Cup tournament – Cameroon in 1990 and Nigeria in 1998.
Keisuke Honda has been directly involved in six of Japan’s last eight goals scored at World Cup tournaments with three goals and three assists.
An island country in Asia and the westernmost African nation might not seem to have much in common. Yet Japan and Senegal share an admirable cultural concern with tidiness, as recently demonstrated after their World Cup wins.
On June 19, Senegal played Poland, beating the European team 2-1. After the game, Senegalese soccer fans, who were no doubt ecstatic, didn’t party. “[T]hey put celebrations on hold … due to the fact that they were busy picking up litter and tidying their section of the stand at the Otkrytiye Arena in Moscow,” ESPN reports. Their actions prompted Spanish-language station TyC Sports to tweet video of these efforts with the hashtag #RESPECT.
Around the same time, over at Mordovia Arena in Saransk, Japanese fans were also busy tidying after their team’s 2-1 victory over Columbia. This moved a fan of the Japanese supporters, Christopher McKaig, to tweet video of their cleanup, calling it his “favorite moment of the World Cup so far.”
While the cleanups may seem strange to those unfamiliar with Senegal and Japan, the efforts are actually typical of the two highly polite cultures. In both lands, community needs and cooperation are emphasized over individual desires, and neat appearances really matter.
For example, in Senegal, the appropriate answer to a series of queries that make up ritualized daily exchanges is, “Jamm rekk,” meaning “peace only” in Wolof. Keeping the peace starts with greeting. Indeed, one of the most cutting but totally acceptable insults is, “What? You don’t greet?”
As for neatness, even dirt floors and dusty yards in remote villages are swept regularly, and the typical crisp white outfits of men and women alike remain impeccable in taxis crammed with seven passengers and no air-conditioning through sheer force of will.
The Japanese, too, are keen on greetings—failure to acknowledge another person, or to do so without the appropriate fervor, is considered very rude. So is littering, which is why Japanese smokers travel with tiny personal ashtrays they use to avoid flicking cigarette butts on the street.
It may be that these cultural preoccupations stem from the countries’ spiritual roots. Senegalese life is highly influenced by a strain of Islamic mysticism developed by the country’s early 20th century hero, Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, who famously preached, “Pray, but plow your fields.”
Similarly, the Zen Buddhist tradition in Japan prizes discipline as a manifestation of spirituality. As Zen monk Shoukei Matsumoto, best-selling author of A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, explains, “We sweep dust to remove our worldly desires. We scrub dirt to free ourselves of attachments.”
Whatever the reason, the neat approach is catching on, and international soccer fans are trading victory dances for litter collection. On June 21, supporters of Uruguay’s winning team, which beat Saudi Arabia 1-0, took to tidying Rostov stadium. El Pais tweeted that they were inspired by the Japanese cleanup.