Monday, 30th October 2017

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Blue Samurais pay the penalty for one miss

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 30.06.10
Guest Column

P.K Banerjee

Japan will have to wait another four years to see their sons rising to earn their maiden berth in the World Cup quarter finals. On Tuesday, in Pretoria, the Blue Samurais, as they are fondly known, made another tearful exit from the World Cup, losing 3-5 on penalties to Paraguay in the second round.

Defender Yuichi Komano must be feeling distraught as he was the only one to miss his shot in the tiebreaker which followed 120 minutes of goalless action.

For the Paraguayans, substitute Edgar Barreto, Cristian Riveros, Lucas Barrios, Nelson Valdez and Oscar Cardozo scored, while Yashuhito Endo, Makoto Hasebe and Keisuke Honda were on target for Japan.

Japan’s exit also means that Asia could not maintain its presence in South Africa beyond the round of 16. I feel bad for them.

This second-round match could have gone either way. If Paraguay enjoyed more possession, the Japanese impressed me with their compactness and discipline. If Paraguayans had some clear chances, the Japanese too created openings of their own. Unfortunately, none of them could capitalise on those.

At this World Cup, I have seen Japan vary their approach for different matches.

Being a quick team, they pass fast from defence to attack, a very important thing if you are trying to catch your rivals off-guard on the break. The midfielders get into scoring positions and a trio of forwards, who have different styles, make it complicated for the defenders to contain them.

If on the right they have a creative midfielder in Hasebe, in Honda there is the medio reinvented as a centre forward. Japan also have an out and out striker, Yoshito Okubo, who plays on the left.

Japan played really well in the group stage, particularly against Denmark, where they impressed one and all with their free-flowing football.

But sadly, on Tuesday, we could not see them repeating that. Maybe, since it was a knockout match, coach Takeshi Okada did not want to take any chances.

Neither did the Paraguayans look like the team that produced such brilliant performances against Italy and Slovakia. Instead they looked more like the team which played out an unimpressive goalless draw against New Zealand.

And mind you, their coach, the Argentine Gerardo Martino, made five changes in Tuesday’s side.

The South Americans looked uninterested and sluggish and that was very surprising since they were on the threshold of history, a maiden quarter final berth in the World Cup.

They were losing balls regularly in the attacking third and no wonder we saw an exasperated Martino looking restless in the dugout.

The likes of Santa Cruz, Barrios and Edgar Benitez failed to stretch the rival defence, with the Manchester City striker having another bad day in office.

But I should also laud the way the Japanese defended on the day. Led once again by Tulio Tanaka, the defence snuffed out anything which looked potent.

This Tulio has been a revelation at this World Cup and the way he blocked Nestor Ortigoza after he menacingly broke into the Japanese half was brilliant. He put his body in the path of Ortigoza’s volley and genuine danger was averted.

Only once, seven minutes into extra time, did Paraguay look to have unlocked the rival defence. Claudio Morel released Nelson Valdez in the box but goalkeeper Seigo Kawashima got out smartly to block the attempt.

Japan relied on set-pieces and they earned quite a few of those. But neither Endo nor Honda’s free-kicks could yield any results. And, then, in the tiebreaker, Komano’s bungle. He got the direction right but hit the horizontal.

This miss will haunt him as long as Japan’s hopes for that elusive last-eight berth remain unfulfilled.