‘A historic moment’: Japanese World Cup hopes surge ahead of crucial Costa Rica match | World Cup 2022

After Japan’s stunning victory over Germany in their opening match of the Qatar World Cup, fans of the Samurai Blue are daring to dream their team could reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

Their remarkable comeback last week has electrified Japan, where hardcore and casual fans alike stayed up until midnight to watch their victory over the four-time world champions.

“We’re just one game in, but Japan are already exceeding expectations,” said Dan Orlowitz, a sports reporter with the Japan Times. “I would have been more than happy with a draw against Germany, but to actually get the win is phenomenal.”

Japan’s travelling fans have already endeared themselves to their hosts, not least for cleaning up after themselves following the Germany match – a ritual that stretches back decades. That goodwill extends to the team, who left stadium staff gifts of origami paper cranes in their spotless dressing room.

Japan’s players, who are up against Costa Rica today, say they are spearheading an Asian challenge to football royalty from Europe and South America – a mission whose accomplishments include Saudi Arabia’s shock win over Argentina.

“It certainly feels like this could turn out to be a great tournament for Asian countries,” said Jeremy Walker, editor of Sporting Asia, the Olympic Council of Asia’s official magazine. “The wins for Saudi Arabia and Japan were a huge step forward for Asian football, especially in the Middle East,” said Walker, who has reported on Japan at three World Cups and is now based in Kuwait.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu with his players during training
Hajime Moriyasu with his players during training. The Japan coach described his country’s defeat of Germany as a historic moment. Photograph: Lee Smith/Reuters

“The locals here were cheering for Japan, too, so there is a strong feeling of pride that Asian teams have beaten two superpowers in Argentina and Germany. Qatar and Iran were disappointing in their first matches, but Saudi Arabia and Japan have changed the atmosphere. But can an Asian team reach the semi-finals, like South Korea in 2002? That’s going to be very tough.”

Orlowitz agrees the tide has turned for Asian teams after Qatar and Iran lost their opening matches. “I think there was a lot of concern among Asian football watchers early on with Qatar and Iran, but since then Asia has had a very respectable showing. The challenge will be getting into the quarter-finals. It may be too early to start thinking about that, but there’s room for hope.”

Japan’s coach, Hajime Moriyasu, could cement his newfound status as national hero if he achieves his goal of taking Japan to the last eight for the first time since their World Cup debut at France 1998, and four years after they came agonisingly close in Russia.

“I believe it’s a historic moment, a historic victory,” he said after the Germany game. “If I think about the development of Japanese soccer, thinking of the players, for them this was a big surprise.”

While Moriyasu revelled in his players’ heroics, fans back home were awaiting the next appearance by Taiyo, an eight-year-old river otter at an aquarium in Tokyo, which predicted Japan would beat Germany the day before the match.

If they repeat the feat against Costa Rica, they could make the knockout stages irrespective of the result of their final group match against Spain. But as the team’s fans anticipated a second raucous night of celebration this weekend, the players were trying – with little success – to play down their prospects.

“We haven’t changed history yet, but I think it was a historic match, so I celebrated with my teammates,” said Ritsu Doan, who scored Japan’s first goal against Germany. “But from today, I’ve changed my mindset and am preparing for the Costa Rica game. It’s important not to get big-headed.”

Indonesian football fans set aside fierce rivalries after stadium disaster | Global development

In Indonesia, football fan culture is vibrant, and its rivalries intense. Animosity between opposing teams is so strong that away fans are generally banned from attending games, as was the case at the time of the Kanjuruhan stadium disaster, when only home Arema supporters were allowed tickets.

Rivalries have descended into violence in the past. Before the Kanjuruhan disaster, 78 people had died in football-related accidents over the last 28 years, according to government figures. It is common for away players to be escorted to and from matches by armoured vehicles.

Yet the disaster that claimed the lives of 131 people in Malang regency, East Java, this month, has prompted – for now at least – a dialling down in hostilities.

Fans of both Arema and their rivals Persebaya have come together, with members of the latter offering support to those mourning friends and relatives. Voices from both sides want organisers and the police to be held accountable.

There was chaos after a pitch invasion by some Arema fans, which prompted police to fire teargas, including, witnesses say, into the stands without warning. The huge clouds of teargas caused panic, and thousands rushed to escape. It was one of the deadliest sports stadium disasters ever.

The Indonesian government has established a fact-finding mission, and six people are already facing charges over the disaster. Already, questions have been raised: why did police use teargas inside the stadium, contrary to Fifa guidance? Why were 42,000 tickets sold for a stadium that holds a maximum of 38,000 people. Why were only four paramedics on standby inside the stadium?

On Monday, the police admitted the teargas they had used had expired.

Fans from both sides want answers. “Who commanded them to carry the ammunition [teargas]? Who gave the command to shoot into the tribune?” asked Amin Fals, a coordinator of Arema Jalur Gaza in Pasuruan, a group of between 200 and 300 Arema supporters.

The police overdid it, he said. If a fan brought a flare into a stadium they would face sanctions, he added. “I once brought a lighter and it was confiscated. What about teargas? Seems like they’re ready for war, don’t you think?”

Amin, who has never missed a home game, said that in the past police had used shields, dogs, water cannon and batons as part of their crowd control measures, but he had never seen any use of teargas. He had not experienced police violence himself, but said he had witnessed other supporters being beaten by the police.

Tulus Budi, a supporter of Persebaya, said many people had a role in fostering the climate that led to the recent disaster, from broadcasters, to organisers and league operators.

“Sports journalists also had their hand in this as they wrote triggering articles before the game. What’s their goal? Of course to boost up their print circulation. We can trace this from the menacing titles of the articles,” he said.

He said supporters should also shoulder some blame for chants threatening to kill fans of opposing teams.

In the days after the stadium disaster, many Persebaya fans have expressed solidarity online with Arema supporters, offering condolences and assistance. Andie Peci, an activist Persebaya supporter, tweeted to say he would support “whatever steps and movements Aremania will take in responding to the tragedy in Kanjuruhan”, adding that he was ready to be part of such movements.

Rodrigo, an Arema fan who asked to give one name, said he had been moved by the response of Persebaya supporters.

Just hours before the incident, rival supporters were taunting him. Yet when news of the tragedy spread, he saw his social media timeline filled with tributes to Arema supporters.

Accounts that once argued with him, had turned their profile pictures to images honouring the grief of Arema, he said. “I’m sure things will change drastically.”

Tulus hopes that the disaster will change fan relationships, but he said reform was also needed from team management and football bosses.

For supporters, change would take time, he added. “None of this can be forced. Anything forced is merely ceremonial. Merely temporary.” If the relations were to improve, it would take commitment from both sides, he added. “I always wished I would never pass on hate to those around me, but people have their own choices. We can’t step in someone else’s shoes.”

Amin hopes that in the future supporters will be able to watch a game side by side, in peace. “No more lives should be lost,” he adds.

“After all, we’re still standing under the red and white flag of the country, right? Rivalry has to exist, but limit that to a 90-minute match on the field.”

“If football is more expensive than life, I’d rather have the world go on without football. Even though I love it so much,” Amin said.

Indonesia stadium tragedy: tributes paid to fan who helped others escape | Indonesia

The Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, has visited victims of the Kanjuruhan stadium disaster, vowing to find the “root” of the tragedy as demands for justice grew.

The president said he would order an audit of all football stadiums in the country, saying: “I want to know the root of the problem that caused this tragedy so that we can get the best solution.”

As Widodo visited relatives of the victims and talked to survivors of the tragedy at a hospital, grieving families continued to call for answers.

Late into Tuesday evening, mourners filed into a funeral home in Watugede village, Malang, to pay their respects to Iwan Junaedi, one of the 131 people killed on Saturday. Iwan, 44, was a prominent figure among Arema FC’s passionate fans, known as Aremania, and was well loved within the community. He died, say friends, trying to open a gate to save other fans.

“Until today, I still never thought that Mas Iwan would end up like this. He lost his life supporting his beloved football team. But I’m sure up there he is smiling. Surely because he has fulfilled his promise: to support Arema until his last breath,” said his wife, Eka Wulandari.

As panic spread amid the firing of teargas by police, Iwan prioritised helping others, friends told his wife.

Iwan Junaedi’s children visit their father’s grave.
Iwan Junaedi’s children visit their father’s grave. Photograph: Reuters

First, he gathered all the members of Curvanord – the organisation of Arema supporters he founded – and ensured they were able to get out of Kanjuruhan safely. They waited, crammed tightly, eyes stinging and weeping, for an hour, before they could finally get outside the stadium.

Iwan rested for half an hour with others in the car park. Then he went back towards gate four alone, determined to help others get out.With his remaining energy, he tried to open the locked gate from the outside.

Half an hour passed, but Iwan had not come back. His group, the Curvanords, went to look for him. The gate was now open; he was lying unconscious on the floor next to it.

Iwan was taken to hospital, but medics were unable to save him.

The Football Association of Indonesia has said on Tuesday that delays in opening the gates – which should be unlocked 10 minutes before the end of a match – contributed to the disaster.

They stayed shut “because of late commands” and officers “had not arrived”, a spokesperson for the association said.

Widodo said on Wednesday that steep stairs inside the stadium also worsened the tragedy.

It is unclear how Iwan died, though his family suspect he was hit by a teargas canister.

His brother, Heri, 55, saw a yellow bruise while bathing his body. “I saw a scar, like a gunshot wound on the [Iwan’s] right upper back. My brother, who works [in the] military, said the wound was [from] a teargas casing,” he said.

Iwan Junaedi’s grave.
Iwan Junaedi’s grave. Photograph: Rizki Dwi Putra/Reuters

Witnesses have previously told the Guardian that no warning was given prior to teargas being used, and that it was fired not only at supporters who had invaded the pitch but also at fans who remained in the stands.

“Deep in my heart I let him go,” said Eka as she swept the tears running through her cheeks. “He has lived his life to the fullest. He has also kept his promise to support Arema until the end of his life,” Eka said.

But the family, she added, want justice and accountability.

“As a victim, I demanded that those responsible for my husband’s death, the father of my children, provide fair compensation,” she said. The disaster must be investigated thoroughly and fully, Eka added: “I have to know who shot my husband with teargas.”

Indonesia’s chief security minister has created a taskforce, made up of academics, officials and journalists, to investigate the disaster. The will complete their work within two to three weeks.

It was midnight when Eka received a phone call saying her husband had died. She thought it was a joke. She had known there was trouble at the stadium that evening, but only half an hour earlier her husband’s friend had called and reassured her that he was safe.

“I only believed the news when I arrived at the Wava Husada hospital, and saw my husband’s body lying on the hospital floor without a bed. My tears broke. My mind and heart got even more clouded when I saw other bodies with pitiful conditions. Some of them had their faces bent inward and were no longer recognisable,” Eka said.

The stadium descended into chaos when officers fired teargas in response to a pitch invasion by fans, creating a deadly crush as fans tried to leave.

A father of three children, Iwan was a homemaker, though he also traded birds and, on match days, would work as a ticket trader.Iwan was an Aremania through and through, said friends. Amin Fals, 55, an old friend of Iwan, remembers how, as a child, Iwan often wore a white T-shirt with “Arema” handwritten on it every time the team competed. He had been a proud supporter ever since he was an elementary school student.

“Even when Arema was not yet in the professional league, Iwan had desperately supported Arema. He even hitched on a truck, following Arema wherever they went. I became an Aremania thanks to Iwan’s influence,” recalls Amin, adding that Iwan was also a loyal and protective friend.

Indonesia football stadium disaster: police chief sacked as investigation launched | Indonesia

An Indonesian police chief and nine elite officers were removed from their posts and 18 others were being investigated for responsibility in the firing of teargas inside a soccer stadium that led to a crush, killing at least 125 people, officials said.

Indonesian police are facing increasing pressure over their management of crowds during the Kanjuruhan stadium disaster.

Officers fired teargas in response to a pitch invasion by fans at the overcrowded stadium in Malang regency, East Java, on Saturday night, creating panic among supporters. Three witnesses told the Guardian teargas was fired not only at fans on the pitch but also at crowds who had remained in the stands, and that no warning was given.

People scrambled to escape, prompting a deadly rush in which many were suffocated or crushed. A further 323 people were injured, some of whom were in a critical condition. At least 32 children were among those killed. The youngest was aged three or four, according to an official.

“I held out in the stands even as the gas strangled my throat,” said one fan who struggled to leave because the exit was packed with people. In my 20 years as an [Arema fan], I have never felt as terrified as I did that night.”

Fifa stadium safety guidance states that “crowd control gas” should not be carried or used by stewards or police inside stadiums.

Indonesia’s chief security minister, Mahfud MD, said on Monday an independent fact-finding team would be formed to investigate the disaster.

Separately, a national police spokesperson, Dedy Prasetyo, said the Malang police chief Ferli Hidayat had been removed along with nine members of an elite police mobile brigade and face possible dismissal in a police ethics trial. He said 18 officers responsible for firing the teargas, ranging from middle- to high-ranking, were being investigated.

Witnesses were being questioned and mobile phone and security camera footage examined, he added.

Rights experts have demanded that any inquiry be fully impartial.

Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, called for the president, Joko Widodo, to establish an independent investigation, and publicly report the findings.

“All those responsible should be held accountable for this disaster, regardless of their status or position. It’s not enough for the national police and the Football Association of Indonesia to conduct their own investigation because they may be tempted to downplay or undermine full accountability for officials involved,” he said.

Fifa should also conduct an investigation and issue a public report of its findings, Robertson added.

Said Usman Hamid, the executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, has also called for an inquiry, claiming “excessive force” had been used.

Damaged vehicles in the Kanjuruhan stadium after the fatal crush.
Damaged vehicles in the Kanjuruhan stadium after the fatal crush.
Photograph: Willy Kurniawan/Reuters

East Java’s police chief, Nico Afinta, defended the force’s response at a news conference on Sunday. He said other measures had been taken before teargas was used but that fans “began to attack the police, acting anarchically and burning vehicles”.

A vigil was held outside the Kanjuruhan stadium on Sunday evening to remember the victims. Graffiti on the walls of the stadium revealed deep anger towards the authorities.

“My siblings were killed. Investigate thoroughly,” read one message scrawled on the stadium’s shutters, accompanied by a black ribbon and the date of the tragedy, according to Agence France-Presse. “ACAB”, an abbreviation for “all cops are bastards”, was sprayed on another wall.

Funerals were also held for victims. “My family and I didn’t think it would turn out like this,” Endah Wahyuni told Reuters. Her two younger brothers, Ahmad Cahyo, 15, and Muhammad Farel, 14, were among those killed. “They loved soccer but never watched Arema live at Kanjuruhan stadium. This was their first time,” she said.

Social media footage from inside the stadium showed chaotic scenes in which fans clambered to escape the teargas, some trying to carry other injured spectators to safety.

Only fans of Arema, the home side, were allowed to watch Saturday night’s match. Fans of the opposing team, Persebaya Surabaya, who won the match, were banned as a precaution to prevent violence between the two sides.

Indonesia has a long-running problem with football violence, fuelled by intense rivalry between teams. However, previous incidents have not been anywhere near as deadly as Saturday’s tragedy, which is one of the worst ever sports stadium disasters.

The Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, called the events “a dark day for all involved in football and a tragedy beyond comprehension”. Football teams around the world offered condolences, including Manchester United and Barcelona, while Real Madrid held a one-minute silence before their game on Sunday.

Football supporters pray at the Jatidiri Stadium in Semarang. They lit candles as a tribute to the victims of the crush.
Football supporters pray at the Jatidiri Stadium in Semarang. They lit candles as a tribute to the victims of the crush. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The Arema coach, Javier Roca, said on Sunday that fans had “died in the arms of players”, after some of the team stayed on the pitch when the game ended.

“Returning from the press conference, I saw the tragedy,” he said, adding that “the boys passed by with victims in their arms”.

“I think the police overstepped their mark, even though I wasn’t out there and didn’t experience the outcome,” the Chilean coach told the Spanish broadcaster Cadena Ser.

The Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) secretary general, Yunus Yussi, said the body was in touch with Fifa about the crush and hoped to avoid sanctions.

Indonesia is due to host the 2023 Under-20 World Cup from 20 May to 11 June, with 24 participating teams. As the host, the country automatically qualifies.

Mahfud said the taskforce investigating the incident would include government officials, analysts, ministry representatives, football officials, academics and members of the media. It would aim to conclude its work within two to three weeks, he said.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Associated Press contributed to this report