OSAKA — Japan coach Takeshi Okada and his World Cup squad received a hero’s welcome at Kansai International Airport on Thursday after their campaign in South Africa exceeded most people’s expectations.
Japan’s hopes of reaching the quarterfinals of soccer’s showcase event for the first time ended Tuesday when Paraguay prevailed 5-3 in a penalty shootout after 120 minutes of scoreless action.
However, few predicted that Japan would even win a single game, let alone advance from a tough Group E that featured European heavyweights the Netherlands, Cameroon and Denmark after a dismal run of results in the buildup to the tournament.
“I’ve coached a lot of teams, but this World Cup team was definitely one of the best,” Okada told a news conference in an Osaka hotel. “Everyone worked hard for the team and played with national pride. I’m proud of these players. It was so good to work with these players and the team staff.”
But the 53-year-old reiterated his intention to step down.
“I don’t think I’ll work with these players again. I just wish them all the best in their careers,” Okada said. “It’s a shame our World Cup campaign ended earlier than we had hoped for. I just wanted to play one more game with this excellent team.”
Guido Buchwald, a former Urawa Reds coach and German defender, has been mentioned as a possible replacement.
It was the first time Japan had reached the knockout stage of a World Cup on foreign soil. Japan also reached the second round when it cohosted the 2002 tournament with South Korea.
Meanwhile, Keisuke Honda, who scored two of Japan’s four goals at the World Cup, kept his sunglasses on while walking through the airport.
“I wanted to play more with this team, so I feel more disappointed than a sense of achievement,” the CSKA Moscow midfielder said.
OSAKA (Kyodo) Former Celtic star midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura admitted Thursday that he will not play for Japan again.
“Yes, that’s right,” Nakamura said when asked to comment on Japanese media reports that his international career finished at the World Cup finals in South Africa.
Struggling with form and fitness, the 32-year-old Nakamura made only one appearance as a substitute in South Africa in a 1-0 loss to the Netherlands on June 19.
Nakamura rejoined boyhood club Yokohama F. Marinos this past February to get more playing time for the World Cup after completing just six miserable months of a two-year deal with Spanish side Espanyol.