IBARAKI, Japan, AFP
Genuine Italy fans were in short supply here Saturday ahead of their country’s Group G World Cup match with Croatia but the spectacle of supporters scrambling for tickets was again evident in the pre-match build-up.
In central Kashima – just like during Italy’s opening 2-0 win in Sapporo over Ecuador – most of the blue shirts were nearly all were worn by Japanese supporters.
There is a 20,000-strong Club Azzurra in Japan full of Japanese citizens with Italian football loyalties.
One of the few ‘tifosi’ of Italian origin present was, in fact, an Australian citizen.
“Not many have arrived yet because they are waiting for the tournament to get into the second round,” said Michele, whose parents are Italian but grew up in Sydney.
“But if we get close to the final you will see more and more as the tournament goes on – I have friends who are planning to come over on June 20.” Italy, who have won three World Cups, are one of the tournament favorites.
Meanwhile, many Japanese fans were looking for tickets at Kashima Stadium, at the local railway station and also on public transport.
One fan, wearing a home-made shirt with half in the blue colors of Italy and the other in Croatian colors, had even commandeered a megaphone and displayed a sign saying: “Need a ticket”.
In contrast to the Italians many Croatians were singing lustily in the center of Kashima having made the long trip for the occasion, decked out in the famous red-and-white chessboard design shirts.
Many Croatia fans here are also Australians of Croatian descent but Miroslav Lucic had made the journey from Zadar, a port town on the Adriatic coast.
“We have a difficult game but although we are still a small country we always do better than people expect in sport,” he said.
Croatia finished the last World Cup in third place while skier Janica Kostelic won three gold medals at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and Goran Ivanisevic is Wimbledon tennis champion.