Football

Japan's Honda focuses on positives after heartbreaking loss

Star midfielder believes future is bright for the Asian team despite 3-2 defeat by Belgium

WORLD CUP: ROUND OF 16
BELGIUM JAPAN
3 2
(Jan Vertonghen 69, Marouane Fellaini 74, Nacer Chadli 90+4) (Genki Haraguchi 48, Takashi Inui 52)

Keisuke Honda said his country has a blueprint for the future despite being knocked out of the World Cup in painful fashion by Belgium on Tuesday morning (Singapore time).

The Asian side had been 2-0 up in Rostov-on-Don, thanks to goals from Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui, and were seemingly headed for the quarter-finals for the first time in history.

Belgium pulled a goal back via a freak Jan Vertonghen header in the 69th minute, and substitute Marouane Fellaini then equalised five minutes later. The match was heading for extra time when Honda opted to try his luck from a long-range free-kick in injury-time.

Thibaut Courtois saved the attempt, and Belgium broke from the corner that followed to snatch the winner from substitute Nacer Chadli and book a last-eight tie 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 counter-attack,” said Japan coach Akira Nishino.

Once again, the Japanese fail to win a World Cup knockout tie, after previous defeats at this stage as co-hosts in 2002, and in 2010.

But Honda, one of the great Japan players of his generation who is now 32, said this defeat should not be compared with that on penalties against Paraguay at the same stage in South Africa eight years ago.

“That time, our team were more than 90 per cent playing in Japan, and just three or four playing in Europe,” said Honda, who came off the bench late on against Belgium.

“We played just long ball and we couldn’t keep the ball, we couldn’t make chances like today, so we can’t compare.

“Today, we showed how we proceed as Japanese football.”

Honda, though, indicated that he is likely to call time on his own international career despite closing in on 100 caps.

“I might finish my career for the national team, but I am happy because many young players are following us and I think that they will make new history for Japanese football,” said the former CSKA Moscow and AC Milan man, now playing in Mexico.

The majority of the squad brought to Russia by coach Nishino is based in Europe, and Honda hopes clubs from the continent will look even more closely to the J-League in future.

“We learned a lot from Spanish soccer, we don’t have the physicality, but we also have technique, we have good midfielders,” said Honda, who scored in the 2-2 draw with Senegal in the group stage.

“The Japanese league also has a lot of these qualities, so they can play in Spain or Germany.

“Maybe we gave the European crowds a message that they should bring more Japanese players, not even national players. I hope they will now take a lot of new talents.”

The Samurai Blue’s next assignment will be at the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates early next year.

However, defender Maya Yoshida admitted that his side also need to look to future World Cups and aim to finally make it to a quarter-final.

“In terms of our development, and for our improvement, we need to go through the round of 16 constantly,” said the Southampton stalwart.

“Then maybe 10 or 20 years later, it will be normal for us.” – AFP

2018 World Cup RussiaJapanBELGIUM