PRETORIA - Japan's most successful World
Cup on foreign soil ended in a second-round penalty shootout
defeat by Paraguay although that disappointing end for the Blue
Samurai should not mask what has been a positive tournament.
Had the shootout gone their way, Japan would have reached
the last eight for the first time ever and it says much about
the changed status of the Asian game that few would have been
overly surprised by such an outcome.
"It's a shame we've lost a game like this, because we worked
really hard to reach the last 16 and we were on the verge of
making history," said captain Makoto Hasebe.
"Despite the defeat, we've shown the world just what
Japanese football is about. Of course, I'm disappointed about
the result but I'm very proud of our team, which stuck together
in the face of every challenge," he said.
The Japanese have only once previously made it out of the
group stage - eight years ago when they co-hosted the
tournament with South Korea - and their displays in South
Africa illustrate the continued progress they are making.
Four years ago, Japan lost 3-1 to Australia, 4-1 to Brazil
and picked up their solitary point in the group stage with a
goalless draw against Croatia.
Those results in Germany led many to question whether Japan
really were pushing themselves into world football's elite but
those doubters have been answered by the displays of Takeshi
Okada's team this time around.
Samuel Eto'o's Cameroon were beaten 1-0 before Japan lost by
the same scoreline to Netherlands and then secured a place in
the last 16 with an excellent 3-1 victory over Denmark.
The manner of the win over the Danes was impressive with
flowing, attacking football, a strong physical presence in
midfield and at the back Japan showed they had cast off their
reputation as lightweights with nice touches but no steel.
Hasebe and Daisuke Matsui were dangerous bursting forward
from the flanks in that game but less effective, in an attacking
sense, in more central roles against Paraguay in a match Japan
lost 5-3 on penalties following a 0-0 draw after extra time.
Yasuhito Endo, the 2009 Asian Footballer of the Year, again
showed himself to be a fine midfield organiser but most of the
plaudits went to stylish forward Keisuke Honda.
He may have benefitted from playing off a more traditional
central striker, particularly in tight games like the stalemate
with Paraguay, but he made the most of his opportunities.
His superb, dipping freekick opened the scoring against the
Danes and then he produced one of the 'skill spots' of the
tournament with his turn, dribble and pass to set up Shinji
Okazaki for the third.
If Japan had produced the same spirited attacks and creative
moves against Paraguay instead of retreating into the negativity
that left them facing a shootout they may have forced their way
into the quarter-finals instead of leaving in tears.
Japan are one of the few emerging football nations who do not
have most of their players in Europe but with the J-League
making steady progress and the country producing interesting new
talent, longer runs in future tournaments are on the cards.
Follow FFT.com on Twitter
Join FFT.com on Facebook
England striker puts pen to paper on permanent deal
The new season is but six weeks away (in the Football League)
"Get on the weights," says expert
Estudiantes hang on for victory in bizarre season-defining match
Who would you rather have playing for your club?
12 months out, the stars look to the World Cup
Your questions answered by an A to Z of legends
75% of all TV is Bale
On the road to ruin
Adidas Nitrocharge for you
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010