ROSTOV-ON-DON: Keisuke Honda said Japan could be proud despite exiting the World Cup in the most agonising manner.
Their players slumped to the turf after Nacer Chadli slammed the ball into the net at the end of a 94th-minute counter-attack, the last move of the game in Rostov-on-Don allowing Belgium to clinch a stunning 3-2 victory and a place in the quarter-finals.
Among the pre-tournament favourites in Russia, Eden Hazard and the Belgians march on to a last-eight meeting with Brazil after scoring one of the latest winning goals in a World Cup game.
But a crushed Japan head home having been two goals ahead midway through the second half on a steamy night on the banks of the Don River.
“As you see, we were not afraid to play against Belgium and we showed that for 90 minutes but unfortunately we couldn’t win the game,” said Honda.
The 32-year-old had come off the bench late on and forced a fine save from Thibaut Courtois from a free-kick in stoppage time just before Japan conceded the deciding goal.
“Belgium deserved to win the game, but I am proud of the team because the starting members played really aggressively,” he said. “I think all Japanese people also are proud of us, so I am satisfied about the team.”
While Honda was dignified in defeat, Japan are entitled to feel they deserved better after a superbly disciplined performance.
Honda, though, insisted Japan could not have approached the game any other way.
“I don’t think we can defend against Belgium. Our strength is to keep the ball. If we didn’t try to do that and play aggressively, I don’t think we would have scored and they could have scored four or five,” said Honda.
Nishino — only appointed in April after the controversial sacking of veteran coach Vahid Halilhodzic — deserves credit for taking Japan so close against one of the finest sets of players around.
That will be little consolation just now, however.
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