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Japan crashes out of World Cup after shootout defeat to Paraguay

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PRETORIA, South Africa — Japan crashed out of the World Cup finals in heartbreaking fashion on Tuesday after a 5-3 penalty shootout defeat to Paraguay in the second round.

Yuichi Komano missed Japan’s third spot kick and Oscar Carodozo buried the decisive penalty to give the South Americans victory after a goalless 120 minutes and deny Japan a first ever place in the quarterfinals.

Paraguay will now meet either Portugal or Spain at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday for a place in the semifinals.

Yasuhito Endo and Makoto Hasebe both converted comfortably but after Cristian Riveros had made it 3-2 to the Paraguayans, Komano fired against the crossbar to leave Japan facing an uphill task.

Nelson Valdez scored to make it 4-2 and although Keisuke Honda gave the Blue Samurai hope, goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima was helpless to stop Cardozo giving the South Americans their first quarterfinal berth.

“The players tried so hard so I wanted to win for them. Maybe this shows a lack of ability on my part,” said Japan coach Takeshi Okada.

“This tells you that it is not easy to win (at the World Cup). The players made a huge effort and I am proud of them.”

Okada went with the same side that started in all three of Japan’s Group E games while Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino made a handful of changes to the team that drew 0-0 with New Zealand.

Fullback Carlos Bonet returned along with defender Antolin Alcaraz and forward Lucas Barrios. Midfielder Nestor Ortigoza and forward Edgar Benitez came in for their first starts of the tournament.

Yoshito Okubo was presented with a half chance with less than 20 seconds gone, firing off target after Enrique Vera had lost the ball but it was the Paraguayans who enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in a cagey first period.

Kawashima had to be alert to block a shot following a sharp turn from Lucas Barrios on 20 minutes but Daisuke Matsui nearly broke the deadlock at the other end seconds later with a dipping strike from distance that rattled Justo Villar’s crossbar.

Roque Santa Cruz then drove a loose ball wide after Claudio Morel’s corner had caused panic in the Japanese defense before Honda, presented with a rare chance, fizzed a shot inches past Villar’s right-hand post five minutes before halftime.

The South Americans continued to look dangerous after the break and Ortigoza weaved his way into the box only to be denied by a wonderful interception from Yuto Nagatomo.

Yuji Nakazawa produced more gutsy defending to charge down a shot from Benitez and the Japanese might have snatched it at the end of normal time, but Marcus Tulio Tanaka was unable to connect with Kengo Nakamura’s flick on from Endo’s free kick.

Neither side looked like they wanted to finish the game in extra time although Honda had a low free kick beaten away by Villar 10 minutes into the first period.