The latest wave of COVID-19 appears to be ebbing in Japan, but on Friday the country still extended the state of emergency for many areas, and “pre-emergency measures” for other prefectures, including Chiba, just outside of Tokyo.
It was in Chiba that Japan’s men’s national soccer team faced Myanmar in a qualifying match for next year’s World Cup, a game for which spectators were not allowed inside, but dozens gathered outside — not out of soccer fandom, but to protest Myanmar’s military junta.
With starting goalie Kyaw Zin Htet among Myanmar players boycotting the trip, the game was a joke. It was never expected to be much of a competition anyway. Japan won the teams’ first qualifier in September 2019, a tidy 2-0 contest in Yangon.
Japan entered having won all five of its games in the second round of Asian qualifying, with 27 goals scored and no goals allowed. It would not have been difficult at all to say, you know what, given the COVID situation, the political situation, and the soccer situation, maybe it would be best to bang this game. It could be rescheduled for later if somehow Myanmar still had a chance of not only catching Tajikistan for second place in Group F, but also Oman, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Uzbekistan as the second-place teams ranked highly enough to advance to the third round.
Instead, a crowd of nobody got to delight in Japan humiliating Myanmar, 10-0, behind five goals from Werder Bremen forward Yuya Osako, who now leads the entire world with eight goals in the Cup qualifiers.
Werder Bremen might have been relegated from the Bundesliga this season, but it’s still a world-renowned club and Osako has loads of experience at the highest levels of soccer. What did anyone think was going to happen having him on the same field as 23-year-old Yangon United goalkeeper Sann Satt Naing, making his second career appearance for the Myanmar national team and first since 2018?
Japan has now officially qualified for the next qualifying round. Its remaining games are both at home, against Tajikistan and third-place Kyrgyzstan. Given the way qualifying is shaping up on the rest of the continent, there’s probably not going to be any decent sporting reason to go on with those games, as the Japanese pandemic emergency continues. But that hasn’t stopped FIFA before, it won’t stop them now, and you can continue to bet that it won’t stop the IOC from plowing through with the Olympics in July.