More World Cup heartbreak for Japan's Blue Samurai

Rick Olivares - Philstar.com
More World Cup heartbreak for Japan's Blue Samurai
Japan players Shuichi Gonda (left) and Eiji Kawashima react to their team's defeat in the Qatar 2022 World Cup Round of 16 football match against Croatia at the Al-Janoub Stadium in Al-Wakrah, south of Doha on December 5, 2022.
Ina Fassbender / AFP

MANILA, Philippines – There was a cartoon circulating prior to the match between Japan and Croatia in the 2022 FIFA World featuring the grim reaper — undoubtedly, Japan — knocking on the doors of Germany, Spain and then Croatia.

The television commentators even went on to say that Japan was after a third European scalp in Croatia.

Unfortunately, the door has been slammed shut on Japan after Croatia ousted them, 3-1, in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw in extra time with keeper Dominik Livakovic saving the first two shots that came from Takumi Minamino and Kaoru Mitoma and the fourth shot from Maya Yoshida.

It was another heartbreaking ouster for Japan.

During the 2018 World Cup, they spotted Belgium with a 2-nil lead with goals in the 48th and 52nd minute from Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui. 

But in the 69th minute, Jan Vertonghen was looking to head the ball into the box. But the ball drifted to the right and dropped in before the second post. Just like that, Belgium were back. 

In the 74th minute, Marouane Fellaini headed home a superb cross from Eden Hazard that leveled the score.

In the final minute of play, Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois quickly released a save to Kevin De Bruyne, who was able to scoot downfield before finding Vertonghen, who crossed the ball in the middle toward forward Romelu Lukaku. 

Lukaku allowed the ball to go between his legs for an unmarked Nacer Chadli to score the winning goal at the death. 

During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the Blue Samurai once more flamed out in the Round of 16, losing a penalty shootout to Paraguay, 5-3.

And in the 2002 World Cup, Japan had a couple of early chances to pierce Turkey’s net but were unable to do so.

A Turkish corner in the 12th minute saw defender Umit Daval rise above all the defenders to head home the one and only goal of the match. And this was painful as it was on Japan’s home soil. 

The 2022 World Cup for Japan will be one of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. After their opening game comeback win versus Germany, they followed that up with a 1-nil stinker of a loss to Costa Rica. Then came the comeback win against Spain before Croatia knocked them out.

Granted Croatia has been an outstanding football nation and still have quite a few from their World Cup Finals stint in 2018, Japan will rue their missed opportunities. They will have to wait another four years before they can rectify that.

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