Japan once again failed to reach the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup in a nightmarish thriller.
Japan sustained their defensive might throughout the first half as their defense successfully kept a clean sheet. The scoreline at halftime was 0-0. This standoff awfully reminded me of Japan’s match against Paraguay in 2010, where the Samurai Blue lost in a penalty shootout.
However, with a beautiful goal from Haraguchi (MF) and Inui (MF) in the opening minutes of the second half, the Japanese dream of reaching the quarterfinals of the World Cup was astonishingly tangible. I started watching the World Cup in 2010, and all I could remember since then were the great number of stories regarding Japan’s lack of “the thing” that could send them into the top 8 of the FIFA games. Today’s game seemed to reflect otherwise.
Unfortunately, with a 69th minute goal from Vertonghen (DF) and another header from Fellaini (MF) in the 74th minute, my heart shattered. We were so close. Japan had multiple opportunities to score thereafter, but they couldn’t convert. A deathblow in the 94th minute by Chadli (MF) sent the Belgium boys past the Samurai Blue.
To be completely frank, I feared this outcome all along. Even after Japan’s two goals, I just had a nagging feeling that a comeback would occur. Japan is missing “something.” The physical attributes? The ability to finish games off? The confidence? This “something” is so difficult to grasp because even after three tries at the Round of 16 match, Japan can’t overcome this towering barrier, and each game seems to have its own problems for Japan.
Maybe the Japanese players are too analytical, but then again, with beefed up players like Lukaku and Fellaini on the Belgian side, however, playing the game without deep analysis of opponent’s play style, game conditions, etc. seems impossible for the Japanese team. Something is missing for Japan. Japanese soccer is facing a predicament of what the Samurai Blue needs to do to find greater success at the international stage.
This game was an absolute tragedy. The two goals from Japan put me in euphoria, but to see that final whistle blow after a last-second winner from Belgium completely knocked out Japanese hearts that had been waiting for decades to see the national team make the quarterfinals. I also sympathized greatly for players like Honda, Nagatomo, Kawashima, Kagawa, and Okazaki. They have revolutionized soccer in Japan. They put Japanese soccer under international spotlight, yet they couldn’t win that ONE match. Sadly, they may never stand on a World Cup pitch again to experience what they have dreamt of.
Other players like Inui and Shibasaki (MF) also shined in this year’s World Cup, and seeing all of these breakout players fall to the ground after the whistle was absolutely terrible.
At the end of the day, the Japan national team worked their butt off and should be proud of what it accomplished. To reach the Round of 16 alone was a great achievement considering the odds put against them. I want to see Japanese soccer succeed in the 2022 World Cup.
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