The Summer of 2002 was a magical year for the Stars & Stripes at the co-hosted World Cup between South Korea and Japan. It saw them advance to the quarterfinals only to fall to eventual runner-up Germany. But it was also a huge success for the Asian hosts. This was the first time the tournament had ventured to the Far East and the two hosts performances laid the foundation for their current crop of national team members and their supporters. This was only the 2nd appearance at the World Cup for Japan with their debut coming four ears earlier in France. They have since qualified for each following World Cup, including this Summer’s contest in Brazil. This is a young soccer nation and they have proven that they should not be taken lightly. The host for the 2002 final was the city of Yokohama, roughly 25 miles South of Tokyo and being being soccer fans Sean and I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to take a tour of the stadium.
The first step was getting to the stadium from Tokyo. Up until now, we had mainly used the JR and Tokyo Metro and in order to get there in a timely manner we decided to take the Shinkansen (Bullet Train). It was also an excuse to ride the famed Japanese Bullet Train.
A quick and quiet 18-minute ride later and we were in Yokohama and there are signs at the train station that point in the direction of the stadium which only made it that much easier.
After navigating the streets and adhering to the directions from the signs, we were at Nissan Stadium.
It’s a massive structure that was on the border of the city and suburbs. It is also a popular destination for runners and joggers, as we saw numerous people running by the stadium.
As we walked toward the entrance it was easy to try and put ourselves there back in 2002 and imagine the sea of Yellow & Blue & Green and Black & Red & Yellow parading into the stadium, cheering and singing all the way. On this day, it was empty.
At the stadium entrance there is a small statue commemorating the final and the entire tournament with the bracket and group results filled out. Being a USA supporter I quickly found the spot where we beat our archrival Mexico and knocked them out of the World Cup in what has led to a series of matches where we beat them 2-0, or Dos A Cero (en Español).
After basking in that glorious moment that took place over a decade ago, it was time to take the tour. Normally, the tours operate at certain times and since we thought we had just missed the first tour of the day we were prepared to wait around the gift shop or the stadium until the next scheduled tour. This was not the case. No one showed up for the first tour and since we were the only two people waiting for one we were treated to what turned out to be a private tour.
The tour guide filled us in on when the stadium was built and walked us by the banners and plaques commemorating the World Cup group matches played there and the home team Yokohama F. Marinos of the J-League. From there we went inside the stadium.
Once down on the field level we really got the scope of the stadium and just how massive it really is and how loud it must have been on the night of the final. Speaking of the final, what must have it been like to be in that winning locker room? I’ll show you! While it is impossible to recreate the moments and atmosphere of that event, the Japanese do a great job preserving the memory of the final. Upon arriving in the locker room we see jerseys of each player hanging in their respective locker and it was hard not to get giddy at the fact that we were standing where Brazilian greats like Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Kaká and Ronaldinho once stood and celebrated. They also had each player sign the wall behind their locker and they then encased in in plastic to preserve it. They also preserved the white board coach Luiz Scolari used on which he predicted that they would win based on adding up the years previous champions, Germany and Argentina, had won and they all equaled the same total. He also boldly predicted, based on this equation, that they would win again in 2006 in Germany – not so much.
After touring the locker room we were brought into a room where the players practiced shooting on goal. It is literally a goal painted on the wall with a diving goalie added for effect. And yes, you can even take a shot on goal!
After barely making a goal, the ball just slid inside the “post”, we were led to an area that housed many items of memorabilia from the tournament. Items like signed jerseys, balls, and programs from different matches throughout the World Cup played at the stadium and just beyond that, is a gigantic mural pieced together artfully depicting “The Beautiful Game”.
This was the final destination for us on our mini Japanese adventure and it was a fitting conclusion to a fun-filled trip.