The face of defeat was red, the eyes wet, the gaze downcast. Yuichi Komano made a slow, sad walk through a media gauntlet behind Loftus Versfeld Stadium known as the Mixed Zone.
But there was nothing mixed about his emotions. Komano was distraught, a Blue Samurai too blue to speak, looking as if he’d let a whole nation down.
The Japanese defender’s penalty kick against Paraguay slammed off the crossbar, the only miss in the 2010 World Cup’s first overtime shootout. The South Americans advanced to the quarterfinal, 5-3 on PKs, their Cinderella story intact, while Japan’s wonderful run was halted by mere inches.
Read the rest of the story: Japan gave its nation reason to cheer
Japan coach Takeshi Okada thinks reaching a first ever World Cup quarterfinal with victory over Paraguay on Tuesday would be an important step in developing football in his country.
“For the football community of Japan, it would be very bright, wonderful news and encouraging if we advanced,” Okada said Monday through a translator. “Japan’s aim of becoming one of the world-class teams would be one step closer if we can qualify for the last eight for the first time.
“The World Cup is a very good measurement to estimate the level of a nation at this time and we’ve come so far, not only to our credit, but to the credit of footballing community of Japan as a whole.”
Read the rest of the story: Paraguay, Japan chase first WCup quarterfinal
Rumors have spread that despite Japan’s improvement and reaching fourth finals, they could still find themselves over-powered at the World Cup 2010 in South Africa. The 23-member World Cup squad, including four new Europe-based players(Keisuke Honda, Makoto Hasebe, Daisuke Matsui, Takayuki Morimoto) have been picked to put those rumors to rest. Japan’s coach, Takeshi Okada, hopes the European-based players will give the team some additional attacking strength.
History of Japan leading up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa:
Japan’s first major achievement in international football came in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, where the team won the bronze medal. This raised awareness of the sport in Japan but absence of a professional domestic league hindered its growth and Japan had to wait 30 years before qualifying for the World Cup.
In 1991, the owners of the semi-professional Japan Soccer League agreed to disband the league and re-form as the professional J League to raise the sport’s profile and to strengthen the national team programme. With the launch of the new league in 1993, interest in football and the national team grew.
Japan co-hosted the 2002 World Cup with South Korea. Despite being held to a 2-2 draw by Belgium in their opening game, the Japanese team reached the second round with a 1-0 win over Russia and a 2-0 victory against Tunisia. However, they subsequently exited the tournament during the Round of 16, after losing 1-0 to the eventual third-place finishers, Turkey.
Through April, SI.com will profile two World Cup teams a week and are currently focusing on Japan.
Japan’s most recognizable player is Shunsuke Nakamura, the talismanic midfielder who scored 29 goals during a five-year stint with Celtic from 2005-09. A holdover from the 2002 and ’06 World Cup teams, Nakamura is one of the side’s most experienced players — but the 31-year-old is fighting the perception of a superstar on the wane. Despite that, the deadly free-kick taker provides important creative influence on the right flank.
And if Japan might not be your favorite team check out all their profiles.
Read More of this profile: 2010 World Cup profile: Japan