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Posted by Kentaro Matsuura on 06/29/2010

And all of a sudden, Japan’s exciting, eye-opening, inspirational journey comes to an end. Japan and Paraguay fought to a 0-0 draw, but Yuichi Komano hit the cross bar on his penalty try and Paraguay are through to the quarterfinals. Tears flowed freely after the game as players, coaches, and fans realized that these magical few weeks of tremendous ups and downs were finally over with one heartbreaking loss. But as we digest this sad day, I think we should hold our heads up high and realize what an amazing run Japan had in South Africa 2010, and what potential we have for 2014 and beyond.

Defense vs Defense

The game was not a beautiful game by any means as both teams seemed quite tentative starting out of the gate. Both teams had been strong defensively for the entirety of the tournament, and today would be no different. Tulio Tanaka and Nakazawa were like stone walls in the middle of Japanese defense and played aggressively and confidently throughout the game to keep Roque Santa Cruz and his teammates off the score sheet. The one or two times that Paraguay were able to create some scoring chances, GK Kawashima was able to make spectacular saves as he had been doing all tournament.

Japan’s offense had similar problems scoring. Unlike in the Denmark game where Japan attacked full force, it seemed that Japan had someone gone back to its conservative style of play that they used against Cameroon. I felt that Okada had gone back to his strategy of playing for a 0-0 tie into the half and making an offensive move in the second half. Japan did have some chances though, and the best was Matsui’s long range effort that smashed off the crossbar. I had written before the World Cup that for a team like Japan who defends well and creates only a few offensive chances, many games are decided by whether the ball goes in or out after its hits the post. When Matsui’s shot went off the bar, it reminded me of 2002 when Santos’ free kick went off the bar against Turkey. You begin to wonder how history would be different had the ball been 3 inches lower. The same bar would later deny Komano in the penalty kick shoot out.

That’s not to say that Paraguay never had its unlucky moments. Minutes after Matsui’s shot, Santa Cruz found the ball at his feet inside the penalty box and had his shot ready to go before the defense could recover. Luckily for Japan, Santa Cruz hit the ball just wide of the goal and Japan was saved from going down 1-0.

Paraguay did a job of keeping the majority of the possession. Initially, the possession was in favor of Paraguay by 67% to 33%, but eventually the possession ended up being 58% to 42% in Paraguay’s favor. This shows that after the first half, Japan started possessing the ball a bit better and took a few more risks in offense. However, we weren’t able to create many real chances, and the few times we combined well in the midfield, our final cross was miss-hit or went straight to an opposing defender.

The second best chance after Matsui’s shot was probably Honda’s shot that went wide left of the goal. He received a pass from Matsui on the ground, let the ball come across his body and shot with the outside of his left foot. It’s a difficult shot with the left when the ball comes from the right, but a tiny bit more precision would have seen Honda’s shot into the net. Imagine what a hero that would have made him.

Overtime

In overtime, Paraguay made a strong surge toward Japan’s goal but some lucky bounces, strong defense and another exceptional save by Kawashima denied the Paraguayans. Japan’s best chance came when Honda was able to hold the ball in the midfield as three defenders swarmed him. He then tipped the ball out to Tamada who took it down the left flank. A gorgeous combination between Tamada and Okazaki saw Tamada to the left of the goal with just the keeper to beat. Nakamura Kengo was in the middle free to score but Tamada’s cross went way past. But other than that, Japan really could only manage to lob the ball in from freekicks earned very far from the goal.

Penalty Kicks

In the Match Preview, I wrote that I thought the game would go into penalty kicks at 0-0 and Japan would win due to Kawashima’s recent success in penalty kicks. As you all know, Komano hit the cross bar and Paraguay made all five shots to win the game. The best players in the world miss penalty kicks in the most important games of their lives and it’s unfortunate for Komano to be the guy that had to miss. But I’m pretty sure no one blames him for the miss. It was unlucky and if it wasn’t him, it was bound to be someone else.

Tough Emotions

Japan’s exit from the World Cup was especially emotional since we went out on penalty kicks. It’s as close as you can get to winning without actually doing so. But to be perfectly honest, 31 teams leave the World Cup in heart break and I’m not sure there’s an easy way, at least emotionally, knowing that you’ll have to wait another four years before having this chance again. Four years is a long time in anyone’s life, especially footballers, and for many of these players this will be the last shot. I hope the entire Japan team, its coaches, and its fans keep their heads up high. As much as today’s loss hurt, we cannot think of loss as the sun setting on our World Cup. Instead we should keep our heads high, and see this as a new dawn for Japanese football – a new generation of Japanese football that can compete with the World’s best.

Comments

Posted by Steve on 06/29/2010

Brutal game to watch but it's a shame. I was rooting for Japan to knock Paraguay out.. =/ Thought Japan could nick a goal, but Okada opted out to defend til the last second. It's also disappointing that Shunsuke Nakamura & Takayuki Morimoto didn't feature in any World Cup game.

Posted by Kei on 06/29/2010

Thank you for putting the match in its proper perspective, Kentaro.

I'm not going to pile any more misery on Komano than he's already feeling right now. This defeat was not his fault. He took a chance and he missed, it happens. At the end of the day, we win as a team and we lose as a team.

That said, this team most certainly surpassed my expectations. Unlike in 2002 and 2006, you get the feeling now that we're capable of moving onto a grander stage. This loss is not the end of the world, but a catalyst to a more prosperous future.

And again, thanks for keeping this wonderful blog for us. Would love to know if you will run another blog until the next one.

Posted by Kentaro Matsuura on 06/30/2010

@Steve. I totally agree that it was disappointing to not see much of Shunsuke or Morimoto. But I guess it's hard to change players when the team does so surprisngly well. There will be a new coach soon so everyone in Japan has a new chance of proving themselves at the national team level. Will be exciting to see how Japan evolve from here on.

@Kei. Glad yo uliked the blog. I will let you know what happens with the blog (I would like to continue too!) but in the mean time I will continue to post during the world cup with the latest Japan news.

Posted by Carter on 06/30/2010

Glad to hear you will still update the blog Kentaro, I'm excited to see if any offers come in for the Japanese players. I know that CSKA Moscow is a big club, but I could see Honda move to an even larger one after the great performances he put in.

Posted by Steve on 06/30/2010

@ Kentaro

Do Japan have any quality young players coming through the ranks?

Keisuke Honda is absolutely amazing, but he's clearly not a forward. He could have benefited greatly by playing behind a robust & talented striker such as Takayuki Morimoto.

Posted by cs on 06/30/2010

I think Japan has the players but probably they need the right kind of coach / manager to bring out their potential. It was regrettable that Japan did not play the kind of game they played against Denmark. They could, and should have taken the game to Paraguay. But overall Japan could go away with this newfound confidence and take it from there.

Hey Ken-san, would you mind starting a blog on Japanese soccer news in general? I think this will be an excellent way to let the world know more about Japanese football. Cheers!

Posted by Kentaro Matsuura on 06/30/2010

@Steve, i'm going to have to do a little bit more research on this as I have been focused on the A-team for the past few months. But as a team, it doesn't look like we have a golden generation coming up or anything. Our U-19 team just lost to China 0-1 and Iran 2-5 last week. Our U-19 went to a tournament last month and lost 0-3 to Ivory Coast, 1-4 to France, and 0-3 to Colombia. I don't know the details but those aren't positive signs. Then again, at the youth level there are many players who will never make it out of there and we really only need one shining star to make a huge impact.

@cs, I've been thinking the same thing that this world needs an English language blog on the Japan National Team. I have a couple different ideas and I will keep you updated with what direction I go in.

Posted by JG on 06/30/2010

It's really a sad thing to see Japan walk out of the WC. When I saw on TV how the fans cried, it also kindof makes me cry with them. But I know Japan is walking out with their head held high. This is really by far the best Japan team I ever saw. The previous Japan team could not really pass the ball well, except for a few. This current team has really did very well even against some of the best team in Europe.

Really hope Kentaro-san and Dan from South Korea will have your own blog about football on J-League and South Korea league. I really think the world has started to realised Asian football has changed, and more people has became a fan for Asian football.

I will continue to support Japan on the next WC. See you in 4 years time.

Posted by mimosa0224 on 06/30/2010

Excellent job on the blog, Kentaro! Hope you continue writing about soccer somewhere where we can all read it. I enjoyed reading them.

Posted by Tetsuka on 06/30/2010

Similarly, I'm curious why Nakamura and Morimoto didn't feature during this WC but I'm sure Okada has his reasons. Hope they will continue to shine for their clubs!

Nonetheless, I appreciate your hard work on these blogs, Kentaro! I would love to read more of your blogs in the future and just to second cs on a japanese team blog, it'll be great for all fans since it's hard to find up-to-date news on the players' progress.

Thanks again, Kentaro-san!

Posted by pheneo22 on 07/01/2010

I'm finally got over the defeat. I'm really touched on how hard they fought out there. Even though we didn't make it to the quarters, it has been a good world cup. As a fan, I'm really proud of this team

and Matsuura-san,
Thank you so much for writing this blogs. I thoroughly enjoyed reading every entry. If you decide to blog about the National team or J-league in the future, please let me know. I'll be one of your avid readers. :)

Posted by Andrew on 07/01/2010

Thanks for all your hard work, Kentaro. I would definitely be an avid reader of an English blog should you decide to continue, but good luck with the rest of your coverage in this World Cup for now.

On a separate note, should you decide NOT to continue an English language blog, do you happen to know any Japanese ones out in cyberspace I could peruse? I need to practice my languishing Japanese somehow, and I'd rather read about soccer than the economy or politics!

Posted by cs on 07/02/2010

Okay, this is probably not the place to air this but I am truly sorry to see Nakamura quit international football. He remains my favourite player of all time. Tribute to him.

Posted by Kentaro Matsuura on 07/02/2010

I apologize for the lack of posts and replies to comments. I am in the midst of a week long move across the US by car and the only Internet I have is this cellphone that finds service every few hundred miles. I will be more active in a couple days.

@cs I also am saddened by the news of shunsuke retiring from intl play. Let's hope he changes his mind

@Andrew I will do my best to find some blogs for you.

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About

Kentaro Matsuura was born in Japan and following a move to the USA resorted to following the national team by renting video tapes in Chinatown. Most recently, Kentaro played for and ran the football club at his graduate school, where he studied business. He will join a consulting firm upon graduation.

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