PRETORIA — Japan’s dressing room was awash with tears after Tuesday’s 5-3 penalty shootout defeat to Paraguay, but Keisuke Honda insists the team’s second-round exit merely serves as a stark reminder of the gap that separates the Blue Samurai from the world’s leading sides.
“Life goes on and I think that the players that played and the ones that didn’t just did not cut it,” the CSKA Moscow star said. “We might as well have gone out in the first round. It is the same thing as far as I am concerned.
“I wanted to win at all costs today but we lost. If I weren’t Japanese or Paraguayan I would not have even watched this match today. That just about sums it up. If I wasn’t Japanese or Paraguayan I probably wouldn’t have known any of the players on the pitch.”
The outspoken Honda’s comments offered little comfort for shell-shocked Yuichi Komano.
The hardworking fullback was the only Japanese player to miss the target in the shootout, his shot rattling the crossbar before the Paraguayans went on to win courtesy of Oscar Cardozo’s coolly taken effort.
Komano cut a forlorn figure as he walked past waiting reporters in tears, but Yoshito Okubo said he was not the only player hit hard by the defeat and admitted that the whole dressing room had been “in pieces.”
“I was crying myself too. Everyone was in pieces. You can’t single out Komano for blame,” Okubo said. “That is the way it goes when it comes down to penalties.
“We did really well to get this far and we can go back to Japan proud of what we have achieved. There is no need for heads to drop.”
Captain Makoto Hasebe added, “I am happy that I could battle with my teammates and coaching staff at this World Cup and although we couldn’t give all the fans in Japan rooting for us a win today, I think we showed them heart.
“Our strength has been teamwork and I think that is what we have shown at this World Cup. Penalty shootouts come down to luck and it is nobody’s fault that we lost.”
Okada to step down
PRETORIA (Kyodo) Takeshi Okada hinted he was ready to take full responsibility and step down as head coach after watching Japan suffer a heartbreaking 5-3 penalty shootout defeat to Paraguay in the second round of the World Cup on Tuesday.
Japan matched the favored South Americans over a grueling 120-minute contest at Loftus Versfeld Stadium, but the Blue Samurai’s hopes of reaching the quarterfinals for the first time ended when Oscar Cardozo swept home the winning spot kick.
“I need to take time to think about it, but I doubt there is anything left for me to do now,” said Okada, who took over the reigns of the national team for a second time in December 2007 after Bosnian coach Ivica Osim was forced to step down after suffering a serious stroke the previous month.
“It is my responsibility. When I look back at what I could have done for the players and what I did as head coach, I should have been more insistent on winning,” said the 53-year-old.
Both sides looked like they were playing for penalties well before the end of normal time but Okada begged to differ.
“All the substitutions I made were to try to press. It is difficult to pinpoint why we couldn’t score. We are not a team that can score a lot of goals.”
Having endured a dismal run of results in the buildup to the tournament, few predicted that Japan would win a single game, let alone advance from a tough Group E that featured European heavyweights the Netherlands, Cameroon and Denmark.
But the Blue Samurai rewrote the script with victories over Cameroon and the Danes and a narrow defeat to the Dutch to advance to the round of 16 for the first time on foreign soil.
Okada, who was at the helm when Japan made its World Cup debut in France in 1998, said he was proud of his players.
“The players made a huge effort and I am proud of them. In terms of how we played I have no regrets at all. This team has made Japan and the whole of Asia proud.”