PRETORIA — 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 Cardozo 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 European champion Spain, which beat Portugal 1-0, 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 Paraguay its first quarterfinal berth.
A tearful Komano was too distraught to speak to reporters after the match but Japan coach Takeshi Okada had encouraging words for his players.
“The players tried so hard, so I wanted to win for them. Maybe this shows a lack of ability on my part,” Okada said.
“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. This team has made Japan and the whole of Asia proud,” added the 53-year-old.
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 Paraguay 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 centimeters past Villar’s right-hand post five minutes before halftime.
The South Americans continued to look dangerous after the break and Nester 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.
Kawashima admitted he was disappointed about not being able to stop any of Paraguay’s penalties.
“All of the players ran their socks off and I would really liked to have saved even just one penalty. I am disappointed. The team grew in stature with each game.”