Contributed by: Stephen Alomes
It was a slightly dewy morning, even under the bright sun lacking on most days of this festival of footy, when the Finnish Icebreakers and the Japanese Samurai took the field on Ransford Oval at an early 9 am on Friday.
While both teams had struggled against either bigger teams (the Japanese) or more experienced teams (the Finns), it would be a morning of stormy weather for the players from Turku, Salo, Vaasa, and Helsinki. After several matches they had lost some players to injury, others (exchange students and local Finns) to exams, and were soon playing with 17 men – their vacant interchange bench contrasted with the to and fro of the Japanese team.
The first quarter produced some of the best football of the tournament, from the Japanese team. The Japanese combination of sure ball handling, confident marking, sharp passing, chains of handball, switching play, run on football and the metres gained was copybook stuff. It was only qualified by indifferent kicking for goal. Both offline shots and kicks falling one to two metres short.
Yosuke Kuno, the big Japan forward, was exercising aerial dominance from the first minutes, although some shots fell short. After a pattern of behinds, Masaya Nakamura kicked truly on the run. By quarter time, the Japanese were dominant, despite the solid resistance of Janne Mannila, with four goals on the board, and seven points from their only weakness, wayward kicking.
The exciting Japanese game continued in the second quarter, with the depleted Finnish team having neither the aerobic fitness nor the interchange players to challenge the running, passing and handballing Japanese who had moved to 6 11 47 by half time.
The Finns were also limited by a pattern of footy at home, of nine a side on small soccer fields, which encouraged them to pass. This was unproductive against the Japanese who had numbers at the contests. The Samurais were winning all around the ground, led by the running game of Michito Sakaki, the skill, balance and passing of Masaya Nakamura and the marking of Kuno, who was the dominant player on the ground.
This was top class footy watched only by a small crowd on the last pre-grand final day of this successful and popular festival of footy, which also had unprecedented media coverage.
In the second half, the game tightened up. While the Samurais added two more, the Icebreakers tackled more and tried the long kicking game, which allowed some of their taller players to haul in marks.
Despite the Finns having a larger share of the play, the Japanese continued to pour on the goals and the points.
Finally, in the last quarter, the Icebreakers kicked their first major, by the big number 98, Lasse Puntilla, which was signalled at the other end by Nashville goal umpire, Toby Persson (who says that his skill with the flags is not matched by singing ability).
However, in the old saying, bad kicking is bad football, and the Japanese squandering of opportunities to kick goals saw them run second, on percentage, to Sweden in division 2.
A final highlight came at the end of the game when the Finnish and Japanese players came together for a group shot. In IC 2014, once again, footy was bigger than country.
Japan: 4.7 6.11 8.17 12. 19 (91)
Finland: 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 (6)
Japan: Oura 2, Tanabe 2, Kuno 2, Nakamura, Takasaki, Yoshida, Tsuneto, Tanaka, Akita
Japan: Kuno, Tanabe, Nakamura, Sakaki, Sato, Kai
Finland: Lofbacka, Parviainen, Karlsson, Romar, Puntilla, Wuoristo
* Times have changed. The Japanese bench had behind it, in a country in love with international popular culture, a poster with the slogan ‘We can do it’. Originally spoken by ‘Rosie the Riveter’, the Western lady in the poster, it was about a different contest on different fields of play and different oceans, about three quarters of a century ago. And the Finnish lady fan with the blue Mohawk hair added a different touch to the theatre of footy supporters.
Disclosure: The author has been a goal umpire in Japan and a central umpire at a Helsinki Heatseekers practice session in Helsinki.
World Footy News