Japanese fans distracted by classic rivalry

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The Independent Football

Five million people are claimed to visit Shizuoka prefecture every year to look at the view of Mount Fuji, Japan's most famous and venerated mountain. Some even climb it.

Five million people are claimed to visit Shizuoka prefecture every year to look at the view of Mount Fuji, Japan's most famous and venerated mountain. Some even climb it.

Spectacular though the view is, on Friday no-one in the Ecopa Stadium will be looking up. They will be concentrating on England's quarter-final with Brazil which, with the possible exception of those games involving the host nations, will be the hottest ticket in this World Cup. Not only is it one of the classic confrontations, it is being played in the archipelago's only footballing 'hotbed' and features the two foreign teams most dear to Japanese supporters' hearts.

This latter aspect was underlined at the Wing Stadium last night when David Beckham and a dozen other England players arrived to watch Brazil defeat Belgium. As one the crowd, almost all of whom were wearing the canary-yellow shirt of the selecão, turned to look at, photograph and video Beckham-san. Then they turned back to cheer Brazil.

Many will now be planning their 150-minute Shinkansen train trip to Shizuoka. The region, which traditionally supplies the J-League with footballers much as the north-east does the English Premiership, is no stranger to Anglo-Brazilian confrontations. Shizuoka prefecture has two teams, Jubilo Iwata and Shimuzu S-Pulse. The latter boasts a samba band among its supporters and Alex, Japan's naturalised Brazilian, in the team ­ but it is Iwata who represent Brazil having long been Dunga's club. S-Pulse is where Steve Perryman managed and he, Dunga and their teams had several bitter confrontations during their period of rivalry.

They, however, were local skirmishes. Friday's match will capture the attention of Planet Football.

"I've already got my match ticket, booked the train, hotel, everything," said Altino Leitão, a fan from Rio who was at the game yesterday. Leitão, an IT company director, added: "I watched Brazil beat England in 1970 on TV, it was the most nervous moment of my life ­ but England aren't as good now."

Clovis Araujo, one of thousands of native Brazilians who live and work in Japan, said: "England is a very strong team and it will be something special. In 1970 it was Bobby Charlton and Pele, and now we're going to see Beckham and Rivaldo."

Another Rio resident, 40-year-old Adriano Olivieri, said: "It should be the final." He added: "Tradition is very important, and Brazil have never been beaten by England in their three World Cup games."

Indeed. Moreover, every time the pair have met in the World Cup ­ in 1958, 1962 and 1970 ­ Brazil have gone on to win the trophy. In the last meeting, in Guadalajara, Mexico, Jairzinho scored the only goal. He went on to become the first and still the only, player to score in every match in a tournament. This year, Ronaldo and Rivaldo have both scored in every game so far.

Yet Brazil, though the only team to win every match they have played in the tournament, are vulnerable. Even the Chinese hit the post against them and Robert Waseige, the Belgian coach, said: "I think this Brazilian defence can be beaten." He added that he had told his team Brazil could be opened up by quick, deep passes from defence, a philosophy which is likely to find favour with Sven Goran Eriksson.

The England manager, coaches and many players including Beckham and Rio Ferdinand attended last night's match. Eriksson said: "Brazil are the favourites for the World Cup, they play good, attacking football and seem to have been born with a football close to their feet. But I can't see any reason why we shouldn't reach the semi-finals.

"Our defence has been very good, and both Emile Heskey and Michael Owen have now scored. Players are getting better with every game. We did our job well against Denmark. Now we must do it again."