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No quarter given: World Cup comes to life as the knockout stage begins | Andy Bull

The tournament has won millions of new fans in Japan and the onus is on the sport to keep them interested by providing a worthy spectacle in the quarter-finals

A storm blew into the sleepy little city of Oita on Friday morning. It brought thunder, lightning and tens of thousands of rugby fans from England, Australia, France and Wales. They found each other under the awnings around the central station, where they sang songs about Delilah and Matilda and all the unseemly things that went on in a Chicago department store, while the locals scurried by and sheltered inside. The World Cup has been running for a month already, but really, it is only just getting started. This weekend the eight best teams in the world square off and they all have a shot at winning to reach the semi-finals.

The tens of thousands will be joined by tens of millions at kick-off. Half of Japan watched their team play Scotland on TV last Sunday, twice as many as watched their opening match against Russia. So whatever happens when they play South Africa in Tokyo on Sunday evening, the landscape of the game has changed in the past four weeks. The horizon is broader now. There are reams of saccharine quotes we could use, from one of those spurious online collections of inspirational sayings, all about how the point of travel is to learn about yourself as much as it is to visit somewhere else.

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