Japan coach Akira Nishino on Monday admitted his desperate disappointment after seeing the Blue Samurai bow out of the World Cup in an agonizing 3-2 defeat to Belgium in the round-of-16.
“I feel it was a tragedy, but I have to accept the defeat as a fact, I feel devastated and very disappointed,” Nishino said. “We started off very well, but at the end, right at the very end, to concede a goal like that is not expected.”
Nacer Chadli’s 94th-minute strike at the end of a counterattack gave Belgium a stunning come-from-behind 3-2 victory in their round-of-16 tie to floor Japan in Rostov-on-Don.
Japan had been 2-0 up after scoring twice early in the second half through Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui.
The Japan players slumped to the turf at the end and Nishino said they were too stunned to talk it through immediately afterward.
Instead of facing Brazil in a mouth-watering quarter-final in Kazan on Friday, Japan are heading home while Belgium march on.
“I told the players to take a shower in the changing room, because they were just standing around stunned. I will talk to them when we are back at the hotel,” Nishino said. “When we were 2-0 up and I didn’t change my players, I really wanted another goal, we were controlling the game, but at that point Belgium upped their game when they really had to. We were determined to disrupt a Belgium side at their best, but at the end we couldn’t really match them.”
Belgium pulled a goal back via a freak Jan Vertonghen header in the 69th minute and substitute Marouane Fellaini then equalized five minutes later.
The match was heading for extra-time when Keisuke Honda opted to try his luck from a long-range free-kick in stoppage-time.
Thibaut Courtois saved the attempt and Belgium broke from the corner that followed to snatch the winner and book a quarter-final with Brazil.
“We wanted to decide the match with a late free-kick and I thought we were going into extra-time, but we didn’t expect that kind of super counterattack,” Nishino said. “My players didn’t expect to see the ball carried into our half in a flash on time which decided the game.”
Nishino said that he was struggling with his emotions at the late sucker punch.
“When we conceded the goal, first I was questioning myself, whether I had control of the game, as we were 2-0 up and then the score was reversed,” he said. “It wasn’t the players who were to blame, maybe it was me who lost control of the game. I questioned myself and my tactics. I felt there wasn’t much in it between the teams, so maybe it was my decisions as a coach and we couldn’t keep up when Belgium upped their game.”
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