They call it the Miracle in Miami (Maiami no kiseki).
On 21 July 1996, the under-23 teams of Japan and Brazil faced off in the first round of the Olympic soccer tournament. Brazil, which had won every major crown except an Olympic gold medal, sent to the Miami pitch what was essentially its national team. To a side that had Bebeto at forward and Rivaldo at mid-field, the Brazilian coach added the maximum three overage players, inserting Roberto Carlos, Juninho and Ronaldo.
Japan, which was not expected to advance, put its actual under-23 squad on the pitch. Japan's indeed was the only team in the Olympic tournament composed entirely of players under 23 year of age. Only two of the players on the Japan side of the pitch had played for the national squad.
It was a hopelessly unfair contest of legends against kids.
The match began, with Brazil pressing from the start. The difference in individual skill levels was clear and humiliating. The ball almost never left the Japan side of the field, the Brazil players passing it around amongst themselves. From left, right and center, the Brazilians unleashed a fusillade of shots-on-goal.
But the strangest thing happened. Despite running the Japanese ragged and firing away without restraint, the Brazilians were failing to put the ball in the goal mouth. Sometimes the shot sailed wide; sometimes it struck the post. Desperately lunging Japanese players blocked others. A multitude bounced, glided or rocketed into the gloved hands of Kawaguchi Toshikatsu, who had what the Brazilian coach later called "the match of a lifetime."
The crowd, which was composed almost entirely of Brazil supporters, began to get frustrated. A Brazilian fan ran on to the pitch, disrupting play.
Halftime came, the players switched sides. The ball still never left the Japan side; the Brazilians still could not get a goal.
Then, in the 73rd minute of play, a long clear from the sidelines sailed toward the penalty area in front of the Brazil goal. Two Brazilian defenders and two Japanese attackers rushed to meet it. In what was a scene replayed a million times afterward, Brazil national team goalie Dida abandoned his position in a flying attempt to wrest the ball away from the four. What he managed to do instead was crash into one of the two Brazil defenders, wiping out Brazil’s line of defense. The ball, with excruciating slowness, bounced toward the empty net. Midfielder Ito Teruyoshi, who is still playing professional soccer today (Lifetime J1/J2 record: 636 appearances/36 goals. International record: 27 appearances/ 0 goals), gave it a final, perverse tap.
The freak goal made the Brazilians mad. They went to a full press, no defenders back. The action on the pitch began to get ugly, with scrambles and kicking fests in front of the Japan goal familiar to anyone who has watched six year olds play.
Still the ball refused to curl Brazil's way.
After what was the longest 17 minutes in any of the Japanese players’ lives, the referee blew his whistle.
Final score: Japan 1 - Brazil 0
The Brazilians had taken 28 shots on goal. The Japanese were generously credited with 4 -- but their only real shot had been Ito's toe tap.
* * *
Why bring up what many Japanese fans consider the greatest match in Japanese soccer history -- and the most improbable victory?
Keeping in mind the result on that crazy afternoon in 1996 might help curb the tongue when the subject of conversation turns to the implications of voter turnout in the December 2012 House of Representatives election or last month's House of Councillors election. There have been a lot of well-meant analyses pointing out that the majority of folks did not vote for the Liberal Democratic Party in the last two national elections, with the implication that the Abe government's mandate to rule based on control of both House of the Diet is somehow less than legitimate.
As to voter turnout, if the voters do not show up to vote, and the LDP benefits, do not blame the LDP.
As to the district first-past-the-post system and a fractured opposition's meaning an awful lot of anti-LDP votes get nullified, do not blame the LDP. Be thankful for the positives: first-past-the-post gives the most popular party at least a chance at forming a stable government.
Yes the gearing of the first-past-the-post system is inequitable. So is the electoral college system for choosing U.S. presidents. Most of the time, with U.S. turnout rates the way they are, only ¼ of the U.S. electorate has voted for a U.S. president.
Do not blame the LDP also for claiming a mandate from the elections. What would you want the party to do instead? Shrug and mumble, "You know, most folks did not vote for us so we really should not presume to take any action"?
Voter turnout is the significant number in terms of making good choices as regards candidates. It should not be seen as significant as regards the right to govern...
[For the record, given
a) historical downward drift in voter turnout,
b) the reality that the outcome in the House of Councillors election was never in doubt and
3) the many horrible candidates of the opposition
voter turnout for the 21 July 2013 election was fantastic.]
The significant number for governance is Cabinet popularity. With high levels of public support, a prime minister can lead the country and his Cabinet can provide stable government.
Lose support, and the election results of a few months ago become meaningless. Just ask Hatoyama Yukio how this happens.
As long as Abe Shinzo can keep himself from creating international incidents and Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide can keep in the air all of the dozens of balls he is juggling, Japan will have the possibility of effective government. There are going to be some real crisis points -- whether to go forward with 3% rise in the consumption tax, whether or not to wave the white flag in the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations. That the folks who won election under the banner of Abe's leadership of the LDP may not see as the party secretariat does regarding these and other issues mean huge problems.
The LDP and the New Komeito won last year and last month, ostensibly according to the rules. That the Supreme Court might decide in the autumn to toss the results of the December 2012 House of Representatives in the trash can will be a judgment on the validity of the rules, not on the victory.
To somehow imply that the LDP is on shaky ground making decisions because it does not have the support of 50% + 1 of the voters -- no.
If it is according to the rules and within regulation, a win is a win is a win is a win -- no matter how ridiculous.
Later - Thanks to reader DS for catching the error.