In the hope of persuading a nation of video gamers to get offline, fans of Subbuteo from around the world have brought their low-tech table-top sport to high-tech Japan.
Frenchman Cedric Garnier, a one-time runner-up in the world championships, led the field at the annual Yokohama Tournament in the city south of Tokyo on Sunday.
AdvertisementA small crowd of spectators clapped with appreciation as he flicked his two-centimetre (one inch) plastic players into a ball around the same size.
The biggest cheer was reserved for an astounding move by his forward, who leapt a line of defenders and slammed into the ball, knocking it past the stunned -- plastic -- goalkeeper and planting it safely in the back of the net.
Garnier, 30, who won the tournament for the second year running, said he and other international acolytes were helping to spread the word about a table-top entertainment that firmly pre-dates the Internet.
"Asia is only starting to discover table football, and the level is quite low at the moment, but it is already getting better and I hope I will make it improve even more," a bullish Garnier said before bagging a gold medal that was many times larger than his goal-scoring heroes.
The game, devised in the 1930s, is played on a large piece of felt with all the markings of a regular football pitch.
Players must flick their tiny men into the ball and move it around the field, passing it between members of the team as they try to get it into their opponent's goal.
If they miss or accidently pass the ball to the opposing team, possession is ceded.
"I take a lot of pleasure playing this little sport, my whole family were Subbuteo players, but my brother and I really took it seriously... we were the most impassioned," said Garnier.
From its apogee in the 1970s and 1980s when Subbuteo was widely played by teenage boys in Europe, Subbuteo fell out of favour in the 1990s when video games came into their own, said John Ho, a member of the Singapore Federation who flew to Japan for this one day event.
But, he says, it is growing in popularity again. According to the International Federation of Sport Table Football, the 2012 World Cup attracted 500 players in Manchester, England.
"This is like regular football, we play because we love the game," said Ho, who came third in the tournament of 14 players.
"In Singapore we have a simple motto. We say "for the love of the game" so whether it is to spread, to instruct or to show other people, that is through that simple message."