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SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) comes short from advancing to the quarterfinals after suffering heart-breaking loss to Belgium

03 July 2018

SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) comes short from advancing to the quarterfinals after suffering heart-breaking loss to Belgium

On Monday 2 July, the SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) squared off with Belgium National Team in the round of 16 of the 2018 World Cup Russia at Rostov Arena in Rostov-on-Don. Despite taking a two-goal lead early in the second half with goals from HARAGUCHI Genki (Fortuna Dusseldorf) and INUI Takashi (Real Betis), Japan allowed Belgium to come from behind late and lost the match with a final score of 2-3. Japan once again came short from advancing to their first ever quarterfinals.

After making their third overall appearance in the round of 16 following 2002 and 2010, Japan entered the match with the same line-ups as they had in their second group stage match.

Belgium, who has made it into the quarterfinals in the 2014 World Cup, lined up players from their first and second group stage match, for an exception of one centre back, where the team recorded two convincing victories. Eight of their players including Romelu LUKAKU, Eden HAZARD, and Kevin DE BRUYNE were given a rest for their third group stage clash against England where the team won 1-0 without them. 

KAGAWA Shinji (Borussia Dortmund) created an opportunity early in the match as he collected the clear ball and took a shot. 10 minutes later, the hotline between Kagawa and Inui threatened the opposing goal as the ball was crossed to Haraguchi who was making the run in the centre.

Following the 15-minute mark, Belgium showed their efforts to score the opener by feeding the ball to their striker Lukaku, as he struck a shot in the 17th minute off a cross, while another attempt was made in the 25th minute where the ball was delivered to him from the right side.

Just two minutes later, Hazard fired a sharp shot, and in the 36th minute Axel WITSEL threatened the Japanese goal following the deflected ball off Hazard’s shot. Belgium was seen taking the initiative of the match but led by YOSHIDA Maya (Southampton FC) and SHOJI Gen (Kashima Antlers), the Japanese defenders displayed great persistence to deny the threats.

Even when facing adversity, Japan anticipated for their opportunity to score. In the 31st minute, NAGATOMO Yuto (Galatasaray S.K.) received the ball from Kagawa before sending a cross towards the centre. Inui was there to strike a header, but his effort was saved by the opposing goalkeeper, Thibaut COURTOIS. In the closing minutes of the first half saw OSAKO Yuya (Werder Bremen) redirecting the fast cross from Nagatomo but came short from finding the net as the match entered halftime scoreless.

However, the match saw a quick turn of an event, early in the second half.

In the 48th minute, after receiving a pass from Inui, SHIBASAKI Gaku (Getafe C.F.) delivered a superb through ball to Haraguchi who penetrated the penalty box as he took on a defender before launching a right footed shot. The shot found the net in the far corner, giving Japan the opening goal.

Belgium came back roaring just minutes after this goal as Hazard struck the right post coming within inches to level the match.

However, it was Japan who scored the next goal. Just four minutes after they score the opening goal, Kagawa collected the cleared ball in the Belgian territory and passed the ball to Inui. After making a quick cut to the right, Inui fired a shot from the edge of the box and nailed the right-hand corner of the Belgian goal, further extending the lead to two goals for Japan.

Trailing by two goals, Belgium made changes to revitalise their momentum. In the 65th minute, Nacer CHADLI and Marouane FELLAINI were brought on to the pitch. Belgium started to regain its dominance as Thomas MEUNIER led the team to initiate attacks from the right side.

In the 71st minute, following a corner kick from the right side, Inui cleared the ball high up in the air. Jan VERTONGHEN responded to this ball and delivered a header into the box. The ball sailed over the head of the Japanese goalkeeper KAWASHIMA Eiji (Football Club de Metz) and shook the net, cutting Belgium’s deficit in half.

Belgium regained their momentum from this goal as they were seen attacking the Japanese goal vigorously. In the 73rd minute, they initiated a counterattack following a corner kick, where Hazard delivered a pass to allow De Bruyne to take a shot. Shoji was there to block this shot, as the ball deflected out of bounds to give Belgium a corner kick.

But it was this corner kick that gave Belgium the equaliser. The second half substitute, Fellaini capitalised the corner kick delivered by Hazard, levelling the match with his towering header.

In efforts to retake the lead, Inui struck a shot after receiving the ball from Kagawa in the 75th minute, but his effort was denied by the opposing defender.

Japan made their substitutions in the 81st minute as HONDA Keisuke (CF Pachuca) and YAMAGUCHI Hotaru (Cerezo Osaka) were brought in for Haraguchi and Shibasaki. Just three minutes later, Honda came close to threaten the Belgian goal as he chased a pass delivered by Kagawa.

Kawashima made brilliant saves against Chadli and Lukaku in the 86th minute, as the Belgium attackers threated the Japanese goal consecutive times. Kawashima was seen making another superb save just a minute later when Fellaini struck a shot from distance.

With the likelihood of the match entering extra time getting higher, Japan picked up a freekick two minutes into the four-minute additional time. Honda delivered a powerful strike with his left foot which caught the target, but Courtois was there to parry the ball out to give Japan a corner kick. In hindsight, this corner kick proved to be the deciding play of the match.

The Belgian goalkeeper caught the ball off of this corner kick and quickly initiated a counterattack. De Bruyne dribbled up the field before delivering a pass to Meunier in the right flank, who sent a cross towards the centre. Lukaku drew the Japanese defenders to the near post before dummying the ball to allow the oncoming Chadli to score the go-ahead goal.

The final whistle blew right after this goal, handing Japan the heart-breaking loss with a final score of 2-3. As Japan once again failed to reach the quarterfinals in the World Cup.

Coaches’ and Players’ Comments

NISHINO Akira, Coach of SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team)
We cannot just put up a good fight, we had to win. We really wanted the victory. Heading into the match, we knew we had what it takes to cope with Belgium and after going through numbers of game plans, we managed to take the lead in the best possible scenario. The way we took the lead was something within my expectations, but the last twist of this match was something I was not prepared for.

After leading the match 2-0, we still anticipated for the third goal, and in reality, we had our chances to further extend the lead. We took control of the match and the ball possession for a short stint, but soon after we saw the real version of Belgium. We spoke before the match that we wanted to face the real Belgium team, and that we must make them play serious. In the last 30 minutes of this match, we got what we wished for, and we couldn’t handle them. I was not expecting a comeback of such fashion, and when the final whistle was blown, it really hit me to realise what it’s like to play in the World Cup and what the real Belgium side had to offer.

Regarding the final result, I can only say that I am disappointed. We came close but could not finish the match with a win. Throughout the match, I was sensing a slight disadvantage, but I couldn’t figure out if that was a difference created from a strategic standpoint or if we were just not good enough against the Belgium side who came out playing their true football… We gave up a 2-0 advantage, but that was not the players’ fault, it was all on my inability to control the match. When the team concedes a goal, my strategical selection should be in question. The players showcased great optimism throughout this tournament and displayed great confidence ahead of this match against Belgium. They have dedicated themselves to challenge hard and perform well over 100% of their capabilities. The mere difference we saw today is a gap that the Japanese football community as a whole must fill in the future.

FP #10 KAGAWA Shinji (Borussia Dortmund)
In this tournament, while respecting the basis of the team, I wanted to display everything I’ve nurtured and experienced through my career. That is why I wanted to advance through to the next stage, and the fact our team had a firm grasp on making it come true, it makes it that much tougher. I am very disappointed.

FP #14 INUI Takashi (Real Betis)
After coming together as a team and winning a match against Paraguay gave us great confidence ahead of this tournament. It was truly a great tournament, but the reality is, we only managed to win against a Colombian side who was playing with 10 players. We couldn’t win the other matches, including today. When we fail to win close matches over and over of times, I feel really bad for the players who aren’t given the opportunities to play on the pitch. I am also filled with sorrow to the fans and the supporters who has came all the way to Russia.

FP #15 OSAKO Yuya (Werder Bremen)
The first goal we conceded was very unfortunate for us. We managed to grab the 2-0 lead in such perfect way, and I honestly don’t know how we should have approached the match afterwards… We were all very focused, but conceded a goal in such fashion, which gave the opponents’ great momentum to carry through the remainder of the match. We entered the match with great aggression, but for me my patience was tested for a long period of time.

FP #17 HASEBE Makoto (Eintracht Frankfurt)
It is difficult to understand if we were just a step away from winning, or if the Belgium side were way ahead of us. I am very proud of our team for playing aggressive in attacks rather than sitting back to defend the match. However, looking back on the match, I personally had a play where I made an error by hitting Kagawa with my pass. It was a play right before we conceded the first goal, and numbers of errors followed that particular play. It made me realise that small mistakes like that can change the dynamics of the entire match. It is tough to reflect on this match. I believe that we just weren’t good enough to make it through to the quarterfinals.

FP #22 YOSHIDA Maya (Southampton FC)
The second we are satisfied with the 2-0 lead, our efforts will slow down. The experienced players of the Belgium side will pounce on such emotions. We must learn from this.

Roberto MARTINEZ, Coach (Belgium National Team)
When the team is behind by two goals, we must do something, and the most important thing is the intention to make something happen, and the unity of the players. There aren’t many cases where teams came from behind after trailing 0-2 in the World Cup. The fact we managed such feat is a result of our players’ characters, concentration, willingness, and their strong persistency refusing to give up the match. I am very proud for our team to display such qualities throughout the 90 minutes.

Schedule

2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Tue. 19 June 2-1 1st Match vs Colombia (Mordovia Arena)
Wed. 20 June PM Training
Thu. 21 June PM Training
Fri. 22 June AM Training
Sat. 23 June PM Official Conference・Official Training
Sun. 24 June 2-2 2nd Match vs Senegal (Ekaterinburg Arena)
Mon. 25 June PM Training
Tue. 26 June AM Training
Wed. 27 June PM Official Conference・Official Training
Thu. 28 June 0-1 3rd Match vs Poland (Volgograd Arena)
Fri. 29 June TBC Training
Sat. 30 June TBC Training
Sun. 1 July TBC Official Conference・Official Training
Mon. 2 July 2-3 Round of 16 vs Belgium (Rostov Arena)

*Local Time
*The schedule is subject to change due to the team condition, the weather, etc.

2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Tournament Dates: 14 June - 15 July 2018

Round16
Mon. 02 July Kickoff at 21:00 vs Belgium National Team (Rostov Arena)
(Tue. 03 July 3:00 Japan time)

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